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Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career Darren Lee , April 21st, 2009 03:49

There are certain bands from whom we demand constant innovation, experimentation and reinvention, perhaps to satisfy a subconscious urge for hip self-validation. And then there's Camera Obscura, a band who have subtly refined their craft over the course of four increasingly irresistible albums, without once threatening a radical Neu!-influenced departure. They really only have one gear (breezily winsome) and one mood (lovelorn), and by rights it should really have become boring by now. But there's something oddly reassuring in their constancy: like the tentative shoots of snowdrop heralding the first sign of spring, My Maudlin Career announces its arrival like an old friend. In their case, familiarity breeds only content.

Now on 4AD after the commercial breakthrough of last album Let's Get Out Of This Country, the Scottish five-piece have delivered perhaps their most fully-realised and lushly ornate collection of songs to date. Opener 'French Navy' is a swoonsome rush of retro Motown girl-pop, the lyrics perfectly encapsulating the confused, ineloquent yearnings of fledgling adolescent romance ("you make me go woo, with the things that you do"). "Will I walk for a hundred miles for a glimpse of another smile?" sighs singer Tracyanne Campbell on aptly-titled 'Sweetest Thing', a gossamer-light confection about the end of a relationship which — possibly ironically — references '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' by Paul Simon. A childlike glockenspiel hook on 'Swans' ushers in perhaps the album's most unashamedly pop moment, all crisp melodic wistfulness and autumnal reverie ("you've never seen a redwood, and you've never dodged a deer").

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with fellow mimsy Scottish aesthetes Belle and Sebastian, whose early patronage of the band (Stuart Murdoch produced their debut album Biggest Blue Hi-Fi) proved instrumental in securing them initial airplay. But whereas once Camera Obscura may have struggled to shrug off the association, they're now unquestionably flourishing in their newfound eclecticism, transcending the limited influences of those early releases to encompass lilting alt-country ('Forests and Sands'), sumptuous Gainsbourg string arrangements ('Careless Love') and euphoric Dexys brass-pop ('Honey In The Sun'). The rising piano octaves on the luminously enchanting title track even recall the stark psychedelia of Pulp's 'Someone Like The Moon'.

My Maudlin Career may not contain anything quite as instantly memorable as breakthrough single 'Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken', but it's a record of such dewy-eyed splendour and rich melodrama that you'll soon wonder how you ever managed without it. The sound of heartache in eleven exquisite shades.

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