Camera Obscura, ‘Desire Lines’ – Album Review
Scotland’s Camera Obscura write songs about love, and they do it well. Their newest full-length, ‘Desire Lines,’ is their fifth album overall and first since 2009’s excellent ‘My Maudlin Career.’ On that record, the group continued to refine the muscled-up indie-pop formula they introduced on 2006’s ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country,’ adding even lusher production and a more pervasive use of strings. On ‘Desire Lines,’ they reel things in a bit, leaning more on their vintage-pop ground game and coming away with possibly their most soulful and undemanding record yet.
Camera Obscura aren’t exactly moving outside of their comfort zone on ‘Desire Lines.’ Instead, they emphasize what they do best and create 13 of the most sophisticated pop songs since, well, the last Camera Obscura album. The focus is still Tracyanne Campbell’s velvety alto and romantic lyrics about love and heartbreak. Behind her, the band soundtracks things with a sea-breeze-in-your-hair kind of atmosphere. The arrangements are as immaculate and smart as ever, with a heavier (albeit subtle) reliance on synths this time around, and the melodies are fleshy and organic in a way that only this band can manage.
In its title alone, opener 'This Is Love (Feels Alright)' pretty much sums up the tone of the whole record. Opening with a languid saxophone hook, the song is all organ and silky guitar chords, and Campbell’s delivery of the titular line defines the album in a single moment. 'New Year’s Resolution' delivers one of the most memorable moments on the record, with its cushy lead guitar hook and distant, starry synths. Thanks to a chorus filled with longing and vulnerability, 'Fifth In Line to the Throne' is the record’s standout cut -- and its most emotionally resonant by a long shot. “If you want me to leave / Then I’ll go," Campbell sings. "If you want me to stay / Let me know.”
There’s a case to be made (although, it’s an inherently reductive one) that Camera Obscura have now thrice made the same record. The group has stuck to the same basic framework for a few albums, and in some cases, that might mean diminishing returns, but Camera Obscura continue to make music that’s meaningful, vital and affecting. The group is most certainly not on autopilot, and ‘Desire Lines’ only further cements Camera Obscura as a band with one of the biggest hearts in indie music.