Monday 3 June 2013

Camera Obscura - Desire Lines

Album review by

Soul music in its most common form was created and developed in the US. Those poor Caribbean and African slaves would sing while they worked in an effort to keep themselves sane. This later transferred to gospel church services which, frankly, made the traditional Sunday ritual that the largely white population were used to look lame. Blues, gospel and soul all evolved as offshoots from black American culture, and it was the suppression of this culture that made it so passionate and, well, soulful. Take any of the soul greats who broke through and found chart success from the 1950s onwards. Many of these began life in church choirs. Can you really imagine someone like Cliff Richard, a pasty white Brit, commanding audiences in the way that James Brown or Aretha Franklin could? Of course not.

There have been many great blues and soul singers from the UK and US who aren't a product of this system. Take the ferocious vocals of Joe Cocker or Steve Marriott for example. Yet these were people heavily influenced by the black artists that had created the genre. If there is a modern form of soul music for pasty white Brits like myself, then maybe it's what Camera Obscura are making. The Scots have long been considered one of the finest indiepop bands going, but this fails to acknowledge the soul aspect to their music. They may have the odd Northern Soul-influenced stomper in their back catalogue, but really this is a different type of soul. Mavis Staples would sing Tracyanne Campbell off the stage if it came to vocal histrionics, but that's not how this band put their message across.

Camera Obscura have, like everyone in music, been influenced by past bands, and many of them fit the indiepop category, yet they've developed their own distinctive sound; one that has remained largely unchanged since those early singles. The last couple of albums in particular bleed emotion and they bleed soul, albeit not soul as Sam Cooke would have recognised it. This is their own British soul music. For most bands, staying on the same path can lead to diminishing returns and a short career; in Camera Obscura's case it's seen them go from strength to strength, and fifth album 'Desire Lines' will only add to this. There is only one surprise on this album, and that's just how the band manage to keep churning out songs of such a high calibre. It's almost as if it's second nature to them, plus the production and arrangements are, of course, stunning.

There's always been an instant likability to this band's music, yet once the songs have been given time to become ingrained in your consciousness this increases tenfold. Following a brief intro they head straight into typically mid-paced form on the beautifully orchestrated 'This Is Love (Feels Alright)' and it's familiar ground right away. That voice is simply spellbinding and the melodies are to die for, but its as much a new form of soul as it is indiepop, such is the feeling that's generated. With some typically twanging guitars, that aforementioned Northern Soul influence makes itself known on 'Troublemaker', it's one of several single contenders alongside the exquisite-yet-pained 'New Year's Resolution', the poppy love song 'Every Weekday', the brassy 'I Missed Your Party' or possible strongest contender, the amazing 'Break It To You Gently', and that's not to mention the already-released splendour of 'Do It Again' and 'Fifth In Line To The Throne' which is pure musical bliss.

There is, as always, much pain and sorrow to be found in the lyrics to songs like 'William's Heart' but you have to listen, hanging on every word, as the songs are sung in such a beguiling manner that you feel it's your responsibility to help restore happiness and light, which is, naturally, impossible. This is where the soul really pours from these songs, and this is in part due to the immaculate production but largely down to the vocals. 'Cri Du Coeur' deals with a similar topic, again it's stunningly realised. The title-track is dreamy and forlorn at the same time. The only fault you can throw at Camera Obscura is that they've essentially made an album of the exact same style yet again, but can this really be a fault when they're simply repeating near perfection? Whether you stick to calling them indiepop to accept the soul involved in 'Desire Lines', one thing is certain, and that is that by now Camera Obscura are surely a national treasure.

Camera Obscura's website

Buy the album

Catch them live: (in reverse order)

27/07/13 / Indietracks Festival
14/07/13 / Bunbury Music Festival , Cincinnati
13/07/13 / Variety Playhouse, Atlanta
12/07/13 / Haw River Ballroom, Saxapahaw
11/07/13 / Filene Center at Wolf Trap, Vienna
10/07/13 / Bank Of America Pavillion, Boston
09/07/13 / Mann Center, Philadelphia
08/07/13 / Central Park Summer Stage, New York
08/07/13 / New York, NY / SummerStage - Central Park
06/07/13 / Central Park Summer Stage, New York
04/07/13 / Toronto Urban Roots Festival , Toronto
03/07/13 / Montreal Jazz Festival , Symphony Hall, Montreal
01/07/13 / Hill Auditorium , Michigan
29/06/13 / Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
28/06/13 / Kanrocksas, Kansas City
27/06/13 / Gothic Theatre, Denver
26/06/13 / Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City
23/06/13 / Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver
22/06/13 / Showbox at The Market, Seattle
21/06/13 / Crystal Ballroom, Portland
19/06/13 / Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
18/06/13 / Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles
16/06/13 / Soho, santa barbara
09/06/13 / Rockness Festival, Dores near Inverness
08/06/13 / Newcastle Northumbria University, Newcastle upon tyne
07/06/13 / Leeds Cockpit, Leeds
06/06/13 / Heaven, London
05/06/13 / Manchester Academy 2, Manchester
04/06/13 / The Liquid Room, Edinburgh

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