Despite being around for well in excess of ten years, Camera Obscura have never made it into the UK’s Top 100 Singles chart (although they did come third in Radio 2’s favourite Moments 2 Remember). It is only since the inception of their latest album, My Maudlin Career which reached No. 32 in the album charts that they began to garner more mainstream recognition. But this has never affected their vintage sound. Listening to them is like looking at life through the lens of a Diana (or a Holga but that’s more 80s) – it’s sometimes romantic but often distorted too.
They started off with two relatively low-key albums in Biggest Bluest Bluest Hi-Fi and Underachievers Please Try Harder. Both gave the impression that these guys knew exactly what kind of tone they wanted to produce – happily sombre; it’s doesn’t have the vividity of HDR or the sombreness of mono but a pleasant sepia that has you in a wistful daze. However, you can clearly see how their tracks have not climbed the charts. Instead of having exciting, progressive tunes, Camera Obscura produce sounds that fit a time of day (usually late afternoon) and a time of year (probably late summer).
Third album, Let’s Get Out Of This Country, marked their first significant signs of development. They drafted in a new producer in Jari Haapalainen (Ed Harcourt, Peter Bjorn & John, The Concretes) and suddenly Tracyanne’s vocals became more zealous and the composition more diverse. Ultimately it was a change that didn’t stray away from their vintage pop hum whilst making themselves more accessible. This is highlighted in ‘Tears for Affairs’ while it also sees Tracyanne take more command with her endearing voice.
When the latest LP My Maudlin Career came out, it got a fairly mixed reception among avid Camera Obscura fans but the charts definitely find the sound easier to get into now. There are still some great tracks on the album like the charming ‘The Sweetest Thing’ and they are still some arty flashes too with ‘Forest and Sands’. But some of the authenticity of earlier albums has been lost. You’re no looking through a Diana lens anymore; it’s now a perfectly high resolution portrayal that’s been edited with vintage filters (instagram anyone?).
It’s nearly be three and a half years since Camera Obscura’s last album and most fans will be hoping for the vignetted and slightly blurry sound of their earlier albums to come back. But what to do about Tracyanne’s voice? A delicate balance between the softness of Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi with the enthusiasm of My Maudlin Career would work. In terms of composition, it would be nice to get some of flair from the later albums though. There’s been very little news on the new album so far but it is in progress and will probably be due for release early next year.
Tears For Affairs
Keep It Clean
Honey In The Sun
The Sweetest Thing
Come Back Margaret
Shine Like A New Pin