Thank you Chris, for inviting me (Bonjour Tristesse) to post about one of my favorite bands.
I'm terrible with Top 10 lists, so I won't exactly be doing that. Instead, this will be an introductory sampler consisting of two of my favorite highlights from each of Camera Obscura's five studio albums:
Album: Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (2001)
Eighties Fan - The first track I ever heard from Camera Obscura. It was produced by Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian, and if you've heard any of their stuff, the influence here is obvious. However, the band still manages to break out with an unique lush retro-inspired and folk colored sound. Hearing it for the fist time, I fell instantly in love with lead singer Tracyanne Campbell's sweetly delicate vocals.
Double Feature - A beautiful track with a clever arrangement, and lyrics that are bound to please movie buffs: "We'll see a Catherine Deneuve double feature". There's a great duelling guitar intro that slowly gives way to a stormy drum beat in the first verse. Then in the second half, there are lovely instrumental sections that flank choruses where the two singers sing overlapping melodies.
Album: Underachievers Please Try Harder (2003)
Their second album and last to feature vocalist/percussionist John Henderson. It's almost a shame, because I think there was something special about the male/female harmonies and vocal interplay between John and Tracyanne in this and the previous album. But as it turns out, the change was a catalyst that would propel the band to another level from this point forward.
Keep it Clean - My instrument of choice is the guitar, but I absolutely love the keyboards on this track. Also, how about the way she cheekily sings the hook? "I don't want to be part of your scene, I'll stay with him and keep my nose, clean".
Before You Cry - This album is full of other catchier songs like the aforementioned "Keep it Clean", as well as "A Sisters Social Agony" and "Teenager", but there's something about this country inspired duet that gets me every time. Might be the cool trading off of piano and guitar riffs, the shifting of time, or the gorgeous pedal steel. Most likely it's that little melody at the end shamelessly borrowed from Rod Stewart's version of "Some Guys Have All The Luck" (a song the band can be heard covering here)
Album: Let's Get Out of this Country (2006)
Their third studio album (and my favorite to date) saw the band leave their comfort zone, traveling from their home of Glasgow to record in Sweden with the help of producer Jari Haapalainen. This was a creative decision that gave the album its title, and produced some amazing results.
Country Mile - The sparse arrangement here contrasts and gives a moment of relief from the bombast of the 'wall of sound' production technique heard on the rest of the album. Most importantly, this gives an opportunity for Tracyanne's vocals to stand on their own, and the bittersweet lyrics never fail to hit home with an intense feeling of melancholy and nostalgia.
Razzle Dazzle Rose - We all have songs that for one reason or another are forever anchored to a certain moment in your life. For me, this is one of those special songs. But I think even without that personal significance, I would still find it one of the most beautiful compositions in the world. It starts off slow, as a crescendo builds, one lush layer after another. First the rhythm and hi-hat, then the bass, the lead, the horns, and the ever atmospheric keys. It gradually gets more and more intense. Until Tracyanne's simple yet ethereal vocals lead us blissfully into a shimmering sonic dreamscape. It continues like this for awhile, but always somehow never long enough, then it all comes to a climax with a glorious trumpet solo backed by furiously crashing cymbals. For their past three tours, this is what the band has used as their set closer, and I couldn't think of a better way for them to end a show or album than this song.
Album: My Maudlin Career (2009)
For their fourth album, the band now signed to legendary UK indie label 4AD, once again went to Sweden to record with Jari Haapalainen, trying to recapture the magic of Let's Get out of this Country. The results turn out just as sonically pleasing, but with that, there's a little bit of a feeling that the band are now just covering the same ground as before.
Swans - A fantastic song, brimming with lots of great little parts. That fantastic opening riff, the clap clap percussion, the way the guitar provides an exclamation point for every line, and best of all, the witty lyrics and the breezy way she delivers that repeating phrase at the end of each verse.
Honey in the Sun - Another winning album closer, and it might just be the most upbeat, energetic and fun sounding song the band has ever written. Most of their songs make you want to cry, this one makes you want to get up and dance while singing at the top of your lungs.
Album: Desire Lines (2013)
It took four long years for the band to return with their fifth studio album. During this time they overcame various personal and medical issues to record in Portland, USA with acclaimed indie producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Spoon). The result is a warmer and evidently more stripped down sound than their previous two albums. Here each of the band members get an opportunity to shine without always being drowned in the mix. It's not their best work but it's a strong and worthy addition to the catalog and it's encouraging that after all this time the band is still experimenting with their sound.
Every Weekday - Although I think she's at her very best when she's singing about heartbreak and anguish. This beautiful ode from Tracyanne to her band shows she's just as good without the 'tristesse'. The icing on the cake is the guest appearance on background vocals by Neko Case.
Desire Lines - A stunningly elegant composition. Once again they've chosen just the right track to close out an album. Steel guitar may be a country music cliche but I'm a total sucker for it every time, and I'd like to believe she's referring to the film when she sings 'Desire lines sent me to Badlands'.
As always, comments are welcome. The next two weekends, I (Chris) will share my favorites from Camera Obscura.