For 31 seconds of strings, the "Intro" to Desire Lines does a pretty amazing job of setting the table. The first swaths are airy and dramatic, slowly and elegiacally swaying, like a sad moment in an atmospheric film score. But the self-serious grandeur doesn't last. An undercurrent of minor-key anxiety soon bubbles to the fore in the form of violin tremolo. It's an appropriate opening for an album of maturely crafted pop songs that make trivial happenstances feel like grave concerns.
This juxtaposition isn't new to Camera Obscura. Doused in reverb and steeped in old-school rock and pop, the Glasgow outfit has spent 17 years rendering personal melodrama into songs that are always catchy and often quite poetic. In many ways, Desire Lines feels like a culmination of that pursuit. The band has certainly written better songs than the standouts here, but as a whole, the new LP is lush and luxurious, building an irresistibly bittersweet mood and maintaining it with incredible skill.
Unlike 2009's My Maudlin Career, where classic singles like "French Navy" and "The Sweetest Thing" erupted with enormous hooks and bigger strings, the arrangements here are all variations on a theme. The gorgeous guitar lines — among the band's very best — merge with Tracyanne Campbell's ever-captivating croon to create a hypnotic haze, a wonderful space to lose yourself for 50 minutes.
There are songs that stand well on their own — particularly "I Missed Your Party," which cleverly mutates its frivolous premise into a rumination on the way some days just slip right by you — but Desire Lines works best as one immersive experience. In that regard, it may be the band's best.