Camera Obscura – Per Ardua Ad Flora

Camera Obscura – Desire Lines


On their last album, Camera Obscura started with a bang. ‘French Navy’ was up-tempo indie-pop heaven. On this album, Camera Obscura play things down. There’s a meditative intro called ‘Intro’ and the first song proper, ‘This Is Love (Feels Alright’), is mid-tempo indie-pop reflection. The change is deliberate, of course, and presumably signals a new-found maturity. Relocating from Glasgow to Portland, Oregon, Camera Obscura have called upon the services of producer Tucker Martine, who has worked with über-serious artists such as The Decembrists and Sufjan Stevens. More than that, they’ve received help from indie-rock-americana royalty, specifically Her Serene Highness Neko Case and His Holiness Jim James, who appear on a number of tracks. Even the album cover marks a new departure for the band. So, after all these changes the big question is why, for the most part, does Desire Lines still sound like most other Camera Obscura albums? The answer lies partly in the lyrics. It’s not that you’d expect to hear a bunch of songs about the school run or the problems of filing a tax return at this stage of their career, but Tracyanne is still singing about the sort of relationships you can only have in your late teens and very early twenties. It’s not inappropriate, just slightly anachronistic. The answer also partly lies in the percussion. Camera Obscura have always been backed by perhaps the least imaginative drumming in contemporary indiedom. And this album is no exception. The beat is hit with a wallop. There are scarcely any fills. And sometimes the drums can be too high in the mix. ‘Troublemaker’ being the best (worst) example. That said, this isn’t just a repeat of previous albums and the lyrics and percussion are only occasional irritants. The title track shows how just a little slide guitar and organ can transform a band’s sound without taking away the essentials. ‘New Year’s Resolution’ weaves some nicely restrained guitar work into a classic melody. ‘Cri Du Coeur’ has more passion than most Camera Obscura songs. Overall, this is a good album, but there’s just that nagging sense of how much better it could have been if Camera Obscura had fully embraced their inner Oregonian.

Drowned In Sound review

Irish Times review

The Independent review

The Guardian review

American Songwriter review

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