The Best Albums of 2013, #17

band01Camera Obscura, Desire Lines

Tracyanne Campbell and Camera Obscura have never put out a bad album, but 2009’s My Maudlin Career was so devoid of flaws, so timeless, that you had to wonder where the Glasgow band would take their music after that. It took four years for a fifth album to come out, and when it did, Desire Lines was indeed a departure, albeit a subtle one. All the characteristics of a Camera Obscura record are there: sumptuous melodies reminiscent of classic ‘early-‘60s pop, Campbell’s trademark wit (“I listen to Billy Joel / I watch Flashdance again / I’m going to get through Walt Whitman / I’m going to be in bed by ten”), as well as her beguiling singing. With producer Tucker Martine the band expands its sound a great deal on Desire Lines, at times sounding surprisingly American with its pedal steel accompaniment. And its quite a bipolar record too, veering from moments of wonderfully ebullient, upbeat tunes like “Troublemaker”, “Do it Again”, and “Break it to You Gently”, to portraits of melancholy and devastation, as on “Cri du Coeur”, “I Missed Your Party”, and the aching title track. With Martine’s guidance the songs range from gentle synth pop, to the trademark Belle and Sebastian-style arrangements, to polite, distinctly British post-war pop strings and horns. Camera Obscura was always a special band, one with an immediately distinct style, but this album feels like a turning point. My Maudlin Career felt like potential fulfilled; Desire Lines feels like the potential is now limitless.