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Camera Obscura Reflect on Romance and Travel

Nov. 25, 2009
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Camera Obscura’s latest record, My Maudlin Career, is filled with such enchanting images of seas, forests, giant redwoods and shimmering moons over exotic locales, as well as such sensual chamber-pop arrangements, that it’s easy to mistake the album as romantic. Underneath all the beauty and pomp, though, is singer-songwriter Tracyanne Campbell’s most calloused set of songs yet.

“French Navy” opens the album with orchestral flair, introducing a handsome sailor who fails to sweep Campbell off her feet.

“You and your dietary restriction,” she sings, unmoved. “Said you loved me with a lot of conviction/ I was waiting to be struck by lightning/ Waiting for somebody exciting.”

That rejection sets the tone for the rest of My Maudlin Career. If that dashing sailor can’t make lightning strike, then the album’s subsequent suitors don’t stand a chance.

“Oh, you want to be a writer? Fantastic idea,” the Scottish songbird condescends to another admirer, her cynicism disguised as usual by the pretty ache in her voice. “You say you’ve never seen America?/ I really think you’d like it there.”

Campbell’s problem is that as a touring musician she has seen America—and much of the rest of the world, too—so she’s too well-versed to swoon over lovers less worldly than her. And though on album closer “Honey in the Sun” she longs to have a partner by her side when she spends a night in Mexico City or gazes at the Southern Cross constellation, she understands the reality that touring precludes such companionship. My Maudlin Career is, in a way, a tour diary.

“A lot of the lyrics were written while we were touring,” Campbell says. “And sitting in the bus looking out the window, you see lots of landscapes, so a lot of the time I’m writing about all these sights: the desert, the forests, the seas.”

For My Maudlin Career, the songs came quickly. “The muse just landed and I was inspired to write,” Campbell recalls. “It was really pretty fast, but that’s not to say writing songs is always that easy.”

The recording sessions, too, were deceptively quick. Though the group’s rich arrangements and regal strings suggest studio perfectionism, Campbell insists the band doesn’t labor over its recordings.

“I understand our records sound quite full, like there’s so much going on, but really there isn’t that much going on,” Campbell says. “We’re on a budget, so we don’t have the luxury of being able to spend months in a studio. And really, we like recording quickly anyway. For this album, we recorded the basic tracks in five or six days, before going back for overdubs. We like to seize the moment.”

In that respect, the group’s output is even more like classic girl-group records than it sounds on the surface, since those old records weren’t so labored, either.

“We liked the idea that those Motown records were made quickly, with all these musicians piling into the studio,” Campbell says. “There’s nothing perfect about those Motown recordings. If you listen closely to those songs you’ll hear all these spontaneous moments and mistakes.”

So does that mean My Maudlin Career is filled with mistakes?

“I don’t think there are any major mistakes,” Campbell says. “There are odd flaws here and there. I’m not going to point them out, though.”

Camera Obscura headlines an 8 p.m. bill at Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 28, with opener Papercuts.


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