Album Reviews

The Hidden Cameras – Awoo

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 4 September 2006

The Hidden Cameras - Awoo The self-proclaimed Gay Church Choir’s third album dances from twisted folk to perfect pop via 30 go-go dancers and a bevy of strings.

For those of you who don’t know already, The Hidden Cameras are part indie-pop collective and part theatrical sensation that occasionally commits itself to record. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, their onstage numbers regularly swell upwards of double figures – and that’s not even counting the additional male go-go dancers clad in little more than balaclavas (for Canadians, then, they’re minimalists). They project their lyrics onto their backdrops to make sure the audience has no excuse not to sing along and they’ve been known to rope into their shows complete Austrian classical orchestras.

All this is as likely to take place in an art theatre as a typical rock venue, blurring the distinction between performance art and entertainment, art, rock and art-rock. In truth, however, The Hidden Cameras is a one-man band – singer, lyricist and all-round creative type Joel Gibb, helped out by willing colleagues from Toronto’s large and impressive Bohemian underground.

This all makes for some great live shows, but does it translate well to record? Happily the answer is yes, pretty much. With a large pool of musicians to draw on, Gibb can be sure to provide swirling strings, country-tinged melodies, twisted folk and ambitiously orchestral pop in equal measure, making this “sex death cult album” as he describes it as much of a pleasure as their previous offerings, 2003’s The Smell Of Our Own and its 2004 successor Mississauga Goddam.

Produced by Gibb himself and recorded by Don (Ron Sexsmith) Kerr and Do Make Say Think‘s Ohad Benchetrit, you could be forgiven for accusing Gibb of trying to out-post-rock himself, but don’t let the hipper-than-thou credentials put you off: Awoo is far more accessible than some of its collaborators would lead you to believe, with much of the album proving to be so easy on the ears that you can happily let the sexual politics of the lyrics wash gently over you.

Tracks such as Fee Fie and the darkly seductive Follow These Eyes in particular offer pleasant melodies that dance along on the borderline between pop, folk and chamber music, while there’s faster fare from Death Of A Tune, with its furious gypsy punk strings, and the dancier She’s Gone. Title track and forthcoming single Awoo infects you with its sing-along temptations and a couple of tracks later, Learning The Lie does exactly the same.

It’s not all disposable, feel-good and throwaway – the lyrics are still carefully sneaking in queer politics but rather than doing it in a loud, angry way, it’s more that they’re gently tickling your nose with a feather boa until even the most homophonic biker would give in and forgive them. What else would you expect from a band who call their mailing list Mild Mannered Army?

All in all, The Hidden Cameras are typical of the avant garde, slightly off-kilter art rock we’ve come to expect from Canada, not a million miles away from what’s being offered by fellow countrymen The Decemberists or Broken Social Scene, who they’ve been known to support. They don’t really have a lot to offer that those others don’t but they’re worth a listen all the same. Angular little story songs such as Hump From Bending sample them at their best, while at their gentlest they’re like a North American Belle and Sebastian, quirky and comfortable all at once.

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More on The Hidden Cameras
This Music Made Me: The Hidden Cameras
The Hidden Cameras – Home On Native Land
The Hidden Cameras – Age
The Hidden Cameras: “That’s the whole concept of the band, controlled chaos” – Interview
The Hidden Cameras – Origin: Orphan