Camera Obscura: Desire Lines

8 Dec

I feel like it’s a bad sign if listening to an album is an anticlimax after seeing its cover art. I wish I could say Camera Obscura‘s Desire Lines is as breathtakingly artful as its album cover, but it’s not.

In their fifth studio album, Camera Obscura continue the legacy of their unique sound in yet another collection of charmingly retro cynical indie love songs. The album presents a gratifying range of instrumental textures and is peppered with pleasantly unexpected little melodic twists. Tracyanne Campbell’s voice is ever lovely in its opaque, almost androgynous deadpan, which makes any emotion she reveals in its hairline cracks or lilts all the more genuine.

This is Love (Feels Alright) is a perfect example of this album’s kind of striking, swaying, crooning track, which you can see making a long car journey on a cold night feel warmer, brighter and less lonely; endearingly anachronistic enough to be listened to by the main character in a period film.

New Year’s Resolution has interesting, uncommon lyrics about the divide between romance and friendship, and Do It Again challenges the band’s usual sound with its sheer fastness of pace… but it doesn’t really challenge music in itself: just Camera Obscura, and this brings me to why I roll my eyes a bit at this album.

Whilst this is indeed a charming (exactly that: charming) collection of numbers, I got bored after about track 3. These songs are tiringly formulaic: the instrumental intro quickly drowned out by Campbell’s vocals, which after a few tracks sound blatantly bored; the sarcastic lyrics which quickly transform from witty and humorous to immature for their lack of balance; the grand, vintage instrumental ending.

It seems Camera Obscura have discovered for themselves a nice little niche, not having displayed much desire to explore with their music, structurally or conceptually, for almost a decade.

You might argue with me here that this album has an instrumental intro track (which, yes, is a wonderful composition on strings), but I feel like intro tracks are for albums which actually have something novel to introduce. This intro, whilst a 30-second piece of We Haven’t Done This Before, makes for an awkward moment when followed by eleven tracks of Much Of The Same.

Isolated from its context, Desire Lines is a lovely group of songs, but perhaps best enjoyed slotted here and there into a mixtape rather than all at once.

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