Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Maudlin Career


I've been a fan of Camera Obscura for a long time. I've heard about them through my favorite band Belle & Sebastian; the 
lead singer for B&S 
produced the Camera 
Obscura album Let's Get Out of This Country. 

Anyone who thinks that "twee" is a derogatory term has never listened to Camera Obscura. The violins they seem so found of make a sweet sonic background for the lead guitar, who whimsically noodles around with the melodies that singer Tracy-Anne Campbell weaves. You will hear no diva-esque belting out of weepy ballads here. Tracy-Anne doesn't scream when she's sad, she sits by the window quietly and sings to herself in a light, airy voice. Luckily, she lets us listen in every now and again.

Since most of you have probably never heard of Camera Obscura, I'm gonna suggest some songs that will get you immediately hooked, and demand that you buy them sight unseen and listen to them obsessively until you want to hug somebody in the rain. In fact, if you're still reading this, just go right now and buy all four of their fantastic albums. Go on, this blog'll be here when you get back.

From My Maudlin Career

1. Honey in the Sun
Really the only song where saxophonist Nigel Baillie gets to shine, probably because he had to leave the band soon after the album's release due to a new baby. Lively, fun, with lyrics that display emotional depth unheard of in anything on the radio in the last ten years. The saxophone manages to lift the listener's spirit up and down like a ragdoll, just like the singer's.

2. French Navy
Oh, Tracy. How many times do we have to say it, "Stop having flings with deep, enigmatic strangers." And a sailor? C'mon, you know he's gonna have to leave you, no matter how much he loves you. Again, lyrics like the best novel you've ever read, and violin work that makes you wanna dance. I would've bought this album on the strength of this one song alone.

3. My Maudlin Career
It's strange to hear Camera Obscura using electric guitars to make the ambience usually made with violins, but as usual, they pull it off very well. Delicate, tinkling pianos and unusually blunt lyrics remind the listener that this band still has a lot of innovation left in them after four albums. When Tracy-Anne says, "This maudlin career has come to an end," we can only hope that she's talking about her sadness, and not about the band.

From Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi

1. Happy New Year
One of the happy ones, obviously. No violins, but Tracy-Anne makes up for it with a livelier-than-normal tune and an excellent duet with pianist Carey Lander.

2.Eighties Fan
I would call this an anthem for disaffected teenage girls, but it's missing something. Even when it shows sympathy
 for the girl in song, it also gently reminds her that she is just a teenager, and she's not gonna make everyone love her, no matter what she does.

3. Houseboat
Another great duet with Tracy-Anne and Carey, and the perfect love song for couples.

From Let's Get Out of This Country
1. Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
One of the more rock-oriented Camera Obscura songs, with a fantastic video that makes 50's TV romance look as creepy as it should've looked in the 50's.

2. Tears For Affairs
Remember when I said that Tracy-Anne 
cries by the window when she's sad? Well, after that, she gently mocks herself for getting too caught up in a fling. Until the next guy comes along, of course.

3. If Looks Could Kill
Another lively twee-rock masterpiece. Tracy threatens to kill her favorite guy if he doesn't cheer up.

From Underachievers Please Try Harder

1. Suspended From Class
Lovely horns frame this relaxing duet about breaking people's hearts and feeling naughty for doing it.

2. Before You Cry
One of the few songs where Carey Lander is the lead singer, this song about a tempestuous relationship has a pleasant country tone to it, including a devastatingly emotional harmonica solo that communicates hopeful heartbreak better than anything else could.

3. Let Me Go Home
Camera Obscura's foray into the realm of dance music is an addictive little ditty that manages to maintain its twee tone even when the singer talks about his records getting crushed because everyone rushed over to the liquor.

I picked three songs from each of their albums, as you can see. Still, even though they can be a bit mellow at times, Camera Obscura's worst song is still miles ahead of anything that you'll hear in mainstream pop today. Too often, when an artist is described as emotional, it means that they scream  and cry into their microphones and rail at the unfair world that they're forced to inhabit. I'm not bashing those bands; I'm a huge My Chemical Romance fan. Camera Obscura achieves an astonishing level of emotion in their music with nothing but thoughtful lyrics, catchy tunes and fantastic lyrical talent. Who would've thought that would be enough?

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