Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang Daily music columnist.
Summer is traditionally the territory of the titanic pop song. Daft Punk’s instant classic throwback “Get Lucky” unofficially began the season when windows-down, sing-along anthems by Katy Perry and Black Eyed Peas rule the airwaves.
Even beach-friendly indie bands such as Best Coast, Real Estate and Surfer Blood can motivate some hipsters to get out into the sun, but it always feels like September with Scottish indie-pop group Camera Obscura. Its latest, “Desire Lines,” is an album that’s more scarf than sundress.
Granted, beach music has never been Camera Obscura’s specialty. Like their countrymen Belle and Sebastian, the group has a twee, subdued take on pop music with a dry sense of humor all its own. Although it’s been a long time since the release of “My Maudlin Career” in 2009, “Desire Lines” doesn’t do much to change the formula.
Camera Obscura’s signature blend of dainty French pop and ’70s AM radio is a vibe unto itself.
This is the kind of music that the cool grad student might play in the background during a low-key, intimate kickback at her house — loud enough that you can hear the melody, but soft enough that you can’t quite get the lyrics.
“Desire Lines” is an album catchy enough to get you to bob your head, but far too self-conscious to get you to dance.
As distilled background music, “Desire Lines” is an unqualified success. Even the slightly fuzzy production seems tailor-made for a movie soundtrack. On the songs with contributions from Neko Case and Jim James, the guest vocals blend in even further into the relentlessly chill album like the backdrop to the backdrop.
Opener “This Is Love (Feels Alright)” is arguably the album’s best track. Tracyanne Campbell’s too cool, smoky voice lends itself well to the very specific style of pop that Camera Obscura has perfected over its 17 years, but the problem is that Campbell’s manner never changes. Her delivery of a lonely goodbye on the stuttering, wavy “Cri du Coeur” sounds frustratingly identical to her cheery proclamation on the bouncy “Every Weekday” that “We’re gonna make a record/Sail around the world.” The result is that “Desire Lines” has no emotional highs or lows. Instead, it’s more of an exercise in the detached nature of indie pop.
That distant apathetic tone might have been a useful tool for specific subject matter or careful application, but as the overarching aesthetic for an album, that trick gets old real fast, considering that even the tracks with wider, more interesting influences are buried underneath the same jangly, wooly guitar. Camera Obscura remains an eminently approachable band with relatively few surprises or especially weak songs.
Ultimately, “Desire Lines” isn’t exactly an acquired taste, but it’s one that could do with a little more seasoning.