Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career


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"It feels like none of this is real."

Lucky for us, it is. This song, this album, this band - it's all quite real. And it's all really quite good, for that matter. Camera Obscura's third LP, Let's Get Out Of This Country, found its way onto a handful of year-end lists, and rightfully so. Two years and ten months later, the follow-up seems poised to do much the same thing.

Riding on the coattails of lead single "French Navy" (the new "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken"), My Maudlin Career has found itself a new crossover audience, one that has begun to show fatigue in the face of the Soulja Boy hotline and another (?!) Lady Gaga chart topper. Good riddance.

"Spent a week in a dusty library, waiting for some words to jump at me."

Some good words must have jumped at leading lady Tracy Campbell - the album's lyrics would certainly land on the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize in LiveJournal. Airy vignettes and aching lament pervade, the songs coming across as sincere instead of, dare I say, maudlin.

Campbell's combination of naivete, longing, and regret seems very similar in tone to that of Gregory and the Hawk's Meredith Godreau. The key difference is that the Scotsmen backing up Campbell create a sound with greater confidence and flair than the muted understatement found on, say, Moenie and Kitchi, and this makes for a much more successful finished product.

"I wish my heart was cold, but it's warmer than before."

And it is this warmth that allows Camera Obscura to transcend the thematic limitations of the break-up album. Much of My Maudlin Career covers the backend of a troubled relationship, and while the band runs the emotional gamut, bitterness is nowhere to be found.

The marvelous, laid back "Forests and Sands" has Campbell declaring "I'm in heaven / And you're holding my hand"; on the flipside, the incessantly upbeat "Swans" finds her single and alone, buying flowers for herself, waiting for an "eloquent boy" to come to her door.

On the somber penultimate track "Other Towns and Cities", Campbell desperately needs monogamy from a casual lover, left to wonder: "In other towns and cities / Who's holding you tonight?". Downers "James" and "Careless Love" both tackle the question of whether two exes can reconcile as "just friends" after the relationship has disintegrated, and "Away With Murder" is just downright heartbreaking.

Despite this rather turbulent midsection, the overall impression of the album is one of positive energy, of optimism. This effect is achieved, at least partly, through the bookending of the record with its two warmest, prettiest numbers. It opens with "French Navy", which sports a ridiculously catchy bridge of strings and horns to contrast with the sparse, staccato instrumentation of the verses; forty minutes later, the similarly up-tempo "Honey in the Sun" ends things much as they began, allowing Maudlin Career to come full circle, establishing it as the band's most accomplished work to date.

"This maudlin career has come to an end."

Has it really?

God, I sure hope not.

Key Tracks:
French Navy
Forests and Sands

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