Camera Obscura adjusts focus

Camera Obscura (from left) Kenny McKeeve, Gavin Dunbar, Tracyanne Campbell, Lee Thomson, and Carey Lander. The Glasgow band is on its first tour as a supporting act, helping Campbell, who is pregnant.
Camera Obscura (from left) Kenny McKeeve, Gavin Dunbar, Tracyanne Campbell, Lee Thomson, and Carey Lander. The Glasgow band is on its first tour as a supporting act, helping Campbell, who is pregnant. (ANNA ISOLA CROLLA)
Posted: July 06, 2013

'You can get a bit sick of yourself, can't you? You need to make changes in your life. In everyday life, you're trying to be better at what you do, be a better person or be more outgoing or whatever it is you feel you lack," says Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura, sounding a theme that goes at least as far back as the title of the band's second album, 2003's Underachievers Please Try Harder.

The Glasgow band recently released its fifth album, Desire Lines, and it changes its script a bit. Until now, each Camera Obscura release has been grander than the last, with more strings and horns bolstering Campbell's lovely songs. "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken," from 2006's Let's Get Out of the Country, and "French Navy" from 2009's My Maudlin Career rank among the best classic pop of the last decade.

The band recorded both albums with producer Jari Haapalainen in Sweden, but when the time came to plan the next album - delayed because of keyboardist Carey Lander's bout with cancer - they wanted a change, although "it would have been easier to go and do a similar thing," says Campbell from a tour stop in Chicago.

"We were a bit bored with that approach, and so much had happened. It was more about not repeating ourselves than doing something specifically new. We wanted more space and clarity and to make it less jolly; we weren't feeling particularly jolly, and we wanted it to be a bit more sophisticated. I think we just wanted a record that represented us a wee bit more in this stage in our lives."

At the suggestion of M. Ward, the band chose to work with producer Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket) in Portland, Ore. Desire Lines dials back on the strings, brass, and reverb; it's more direct and uncluttered, although no less charming. It still contains moments of upbeat euphoria, such as the jolly single "Do It Again" (which Campbell says they almost left off the album for sounding "too Camera Obscura"), but its heart lies in gentler tracks, such as "New Year's Resolution," "Desire Lines," and "I Missed Your Party," the latter of which finds the narrator staying home with Walt Whitman instead of going out.

"That lyric was written because I was quite literally trying to read Walt Whitman and struggling a bit, finding him quite tricky," Campbell says. "I'd be a liar to say I'm a fan: It's more true to say I attempted to become a fan and struggled a wee bit. Obviously, it's great poetry and beautiful language.

Camera Obscura will open for M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's She & Him at the Mann on Tuesday night. It's the band's first tour as a supporting act. They made that decision in part to play in front of larger crowds: Camera Obscura and She & Him share a fondness for updating the pop styles of the early '60s, although Camera Obscura is not as overtly timebound as She & Him. Also, Campbell is six months pregnant with her first child, and the earlier-in-the-evening, shorter set, and shorter tour, seemed to be smart moves.

"We could have gone on for longer, but obviously with my condition, we had to knock it in the head at a safe time," says Campbell, laughing.


Camera Obscura opens for She & Him at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 5201 Parkside Ave. Tickets: $29.50-$47.50. Information: 215-878-0400, www.manncenter.org.

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