Monday, December 21, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 10

We last saw Camera Obscura making the great leap forward with Let’s Get Out Of This Country. Not only did radio express an interest for the first time, it saw them cast off their unassuming past and fully embrace the Wall Of Sound, marrying uplifting 60s-tinged skewed pop to Tracyanne Campbell’s lyrical ideas of vulnerable romance and empathetic self-absorption. Making the leap to 4AD, My Maudlin Career didn't have anything to match the glorious Lloyd I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken, but as a whole it refined the girl group swoon and countrified lilt not necessarily to disappear off in another stylistic direction but to create a sound that is entirely theirs.

Interestingly, at least until the Motown strings really kick in, opener and single French Navy is as close as they’ve come (for a while at least) to those Belle & Sebastian comparisons of yore. Hints of Orange Juice and Felt added to Northern Soul via Phil Spector drums help to create something that indirectly reminds us of The Wrong Girl off Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, but topped by Tracyanne Campbell's vocals. Great at expressing heartfelt bittersweet sentiments she swoons over new love, before on The Sweetest Thing singing about “trying to fall out of love with you... I don’t know what else to do". If the album has a theme it’s that hope v experience conflict, daring not to get her hopes up too high knowing from her bitter past fear fulfilment. Matching upbeat arrangement to downbeat lyrics is an old trick but very few have learnt to use it as well – even Swans with its circular riff and glockenspiel aided hook reeks of indistinct heartbreak. On Away With Murder she's "put my thoughts in a letter to send it when I’m feeling strong” over a Grand Old Opry beat, forming a stately piece of melancholy having already confessed “I told you all along there was no point looking to me”. James is more lyrically direct in its rejection, Campbell telling the titular ex “you broke me, I thought I knew you well“. “My maudlin career must come to an end, I don’t want to be sad again” Campbell sings through the tears on the chorus of the lilting title track, the closest thing on this album to the last. Then again she also confesses “in your eyes there’s a sadness enough to kill the both of us/Are those eyes overrated? They make me want to give up on love”. Closer Honey In The Sun rejects the downbeat air with a defiant, brass aided rush of a chorus over which she admits “I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew”. It’s the sound of a band tighter and far more aware of what they’re doing, and more able to carry it off with the minimum of fuss, aided by a panoramic production, exhibiting a level of confidence that’s the exact opposite of the lyrical content. If Campbell’s declaration that much of this album is based on fact, such messiness has left her fighting fit.

This is an edited version of a review that originally appeared on The Line Of Best Fit


French Navy

The full list

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