Camera Obscura, Desire Lines, 4AD
Indie-pop: melodic music with romantic lyrics, guitars and Sixties influences It’s been done badly so often that it’s easy to forget how magical it can be when created with love, intelligence and attention to detail. Thankfully, Glasgow’s Camera Obscura are here to provide a masterclass.
Desire Lines is as retro as a TARDIS in reverse gear. Most of it sounds as if it could have been made at any point in the past fifty years. In particular, it recalls the post-punk, late Seventies/early Eighties era when ‘indie’ first became established as a musical genre. But it doesn’t sound over-familiar, because Camera Obscura add fresh twists and textures. They’ve been perfecting this pert, poignant pop since 1996, and here they craft some sumptuous soundscapes.
There is, for instance, ‘William’s Heart’, a slow song in which a guitar twangy enough for Duane Eddy appears over a shimmering haze of synthesisers, as singer Tracyanne Campbell considers the alternative comforts of sex and whisky: “If it’s a single man or a single malt/That I take in my arms when I’m feeling low”. Then there’s the exuberant, gleefully libidinous ‘Do It Again’, a buzzing upbeat Blondie-esque thing about re-lighting an erotic fire.
While that isn’t the only happy moment on Desire Lines, it’s fair to say that the prevailing mood is one of romantic melancholy. Uncertainty about a long-established relationship is a recurring lyrical theme: this is indie-pop made by and for adults who haven’t let experience ruin their romanticism. A hint of country creeps in from time to time, notably on ‘Every Weekday’ and in the title track, both of which tentatively suggest a possible happy ending to the tale of troubled tenderness running through Desire Lines. On the slower songs in particular, Tracyanne sometimes sounds like Jenny Lewis, either with or without Rilo Kiley – and that’s high praise indeed.
Best of all are the crazily catchy ‘Break It To You Gently’, surely an indie-disco floor-filler in waiting, and ‘Fifth In Line To The Throne’. The latter is possibly the loveliest love song ever to be inspired by changes to the UK’s laws of royal succession, and it’s illuminated by some simply sublime delicate interlacing of guitar and piano.
Desire Lines is a delightful album: tender, thoughtful and thrilling. Songs of innocence and experience, wistful and wise.