Not the end of their maudlin career

Cover of the April 21 release, My Maudlin Career

Cover of the April 21 release, My Maudlin Career

Performance must be a strange thing for the pop troubadour. I’m not talking about the Beyonces or the Britneys or the Lady Gagas, who are more like prettily decorated, leggy mouthpieces for scads of songwriters who can churn out hits while sitting in their Hummers and stuck in traffic. Musicians who write and play their own work, who promote themselves as purveyors of the gargantuan and unwieldy branch of music known as pop, have a strange lot in life. They make careers by singing about human beings’ most deeply felt emotions. Think about the night you broke up with the first person who counted, the afternoon you walked out of the clinic after being told the test came out negative, and the morning you woke up and decided that you could no longer stand the bullshit you’d willingly rolled in just the night before. The modern day pop troubadour gets to revisit all of those experiences as if they all occurred within hours of each other with every song.

I’m sure an artist has to cultivate a healthy and necessary distance. A singer can’t be in the same headspace as when she originally wrote the song about her emotionally distant lover every time she performs it, while people in the venue chatter and clink bottles and make out like untrained animals. If you had to keep reliving the event that triggered the wave of emotion and introspection that created the song in the first place, you’d probably end up like early Cat Power when she used to dart off the stage at the slightest mistake.

The Scottish side of the United Kingdom must keep something in their water supply to produce much-acclaimed earnest pop crooners,  since that area is home to groups like the Delgados and Belle and Sebastian. Fellow Scot compatriots, Camera Obscura, will release their new album, My Maudlin Career,on April 21 in the states. Their songs tell stories of complicated crushes and chance encounters in plain, confessional lyrical snippets. Singer Tracyanne Campbell could strum her guitar while reading aloud from her journal. This brings me back to the conundrum of the pop troubadour. It’s their job to make the listener feel as if the singer knows just what it was like when you stopped looking at love or clouds or your own mortality the way you once did. That is more than my daily recommended dosage of catharsis. So when a band assumes the mantle of pop troubadour and does it successfully for about a decade, it’s more than noteworthy. It’s indispensable. It means that the rest of us, the inarticulate shmoes who wind ourselves into a rocking fetal position the longer we need to display our skeletons, can feel less like we’re big ole’ weirdos and more like we’re part of a vast majority of weirdos. Camera Obscura has made pretty, sometimes deceptively cute songs for a long time. And they’ve continued to do so without losing their grip on the authenticity and humor that makes pop music so damn addictive. If the band is ever maudlin (they are not, in my opinion), maybe it just means that the world needs more histrionics (it does not, in my opinion).

Camera Obscura will play at the Wonder Ballroom on Thursday, June 4. Agent Ribbons will also play.

  • Camera Obscura ~ My Maudlin Career ~ 4AD

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