The past six months have seen a wealth of blistering post-punk streaming out of Glasgow, with Glasvegas and the 1990s being two of the more notable perpetrators.
Yet the city is capable of much softer offerings, as evidenced by Camera Obscura and their brand of yesteryear Americana pop. The Scottish sextet’s fourth album, My Maudlin Career, is the musical equivalent of a bowling alley chock-full of orderly, milkshake-drinking youth—a sober endeavor absent of the snarky lining so common among today’s throwback set.
On their last release, 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, Camera Obscura transplanted themselves into a pop-art world full of smiling milkmen, space-race headlines, and backyard fallout shelters. Maudlin continues the sincere homage to a departed age; bittersweet and self-deprecating, the album languishes somewhere in between Mates of State’s organ-driven pop and Beck’s Modern Guilt. The result is not nearly as novel or dorkishly handsome as Country, but it still manages to exude addictive gorgeousness.
Such splendor will allow many listeners to forgive Maudlin‘s woeful posturing, a kind of cutesy-poo, melancholy selling point whose beauty is matched only by its heavy-handedness. The heartbroken, Western mosey of “Forest and Sands” is evidence of such. Shoeless but prodding, the track bears much of the album’s suburban potluck desperation. Whether it’s like some hip soundtrack to an awkward middle school dance (“Careless”) or an atmospheric road trip of ticklish sound (the title track), the lo-fi, lovesick pining is at once charming and unsurprising, failing to break the boundaries set by Country, no matter what the pleasantries.
Thankfully, as the fuzzy tape machine filter starts to wear and some of the gimmicks struggle to flesh out, listeners will realize that Camera Obscura themselves are the better draw. Like that geeky girl you had a crush on in college, the band is full of unrequited longing and cute retrospection, marching to their own just-quirky-enough beat. Much of the credit on that last note must be handed to lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell, whose voice overflows with a self-referential, saccharine timbre—the kind of faint sarcasm that suggests she’s winking along with the joke.
The band glosses over Maudlin‘s pedestrian bruises, elevating it from mediocrity into pleasant diversion through sheer charismatic will. And make no mistake: Cheery escapism is exactly what the album provides, for while it often strives to be modern, all relevance is lost by its too-brilliant emulation of a bygone era. Camera Obscura soldiers on nonetheless, happy to conjure up the ghosts of doo-wop, Motown, Buddy Holly, and other golden-aged sounds. Luckily, for both the album and its audience, the band’s perseverance results in hits more often than misses.