Monday, April 20, 2015

The Non-Lexical Cameras

I've spent a lot of time listening to The Hidden Cameras since I shared my first impressions of AWOO two summers ago. That album has since been joined in my library by Mississauga Goddam, AGE, The Smell of Our Own, and Origin:Orphan, which means that I am now familiar with five sixths of the band's entire discography.

Each of these albums is its own unique beast, but I have noticed some things that are common to all of them. For one thing, Joel Gibb loves talking about sexual taboos (Smell of Our Own closer The Man That I Am With My Man is perhaps the ultimate example of that), but the subject that I'd like to talk about today isn't so much a running theme as a recurring musical device.

See, when Joel Gibb isn't singing about oral sex or water sports, he's just as likely to be singing...well, nothing. The Hidden Cameras are very fond of what Wikipedia calls non-lexical vocables, but what we can refer to as 'wordless singing' for the sake of simplicity. Gibb's hooks and choruses are often constructed from nonverbal la-las, wee-oohs, and doo-be-doo-be-doos instead of from actual words and phrases, and this applies to all five of the albums mentioned above. Whether it's Mississauga Goddam's Doot Doot Plot...

Doo do do do do doo doo...

...or Skin & Leather from AGE, the band's latest album...

Dah-de-dah, d-d-dah-de-dah, d-d-dah-de-dah, d-d-dah-de-dah...'re never far from the next non-lexical love-in. However, the single most egregious example of Joel Gibb's obsession with nonsense syllables is In the NA, from 2009's Origin:Orphan:

Practically every line of this song ends with the same phrase: "Lose my stare in the na, watch my back in the na, hid my past by the na, hold me close in the na..."

It was upon hearing this song for the first time that I wondered whether there might be something more to this non-lexical business. In the NA isn't just a catchy melody for which Gibb couldn't think of any words; it seems to me that he's actually censoring himself, as if 'na' is a placeholder for another, more explicit word or phrase that's too naughty to say.

Once you start seeing the wordless vocals as melodic beep censors, the whole Hidden Cameras repertoire starts to look slightly different. Here's an excerpt from Mississauga Goddam's title track:

Mississauga goddam
Bears the treachery of my own man
I'll be wearing my disguise
Until I rid my life
Of Mississauga goddam.

Mississauga people
Carry the weight of common evil
And go about their lives
With a whisper and a whine
About Mississauga goddam.

Have I mentioned that Joel Gibb is gay? These lyrics are all about hiding your sexuality ("wearing my disguise") from the people around you and keeping quiet ("with a whisper and a whine") about the stuff you're into because society may not be able to accept it.

So perhaps all of that wordless singing is just a "disguise" - perhaps Gibb pads his songs with nonsensical sing-song words because he's not allowed to say the things he truly wants to. Of course, given that he's comfortable singing about "fingering foreign dirty holes" (Ban Marriage) and "peeing on...shoulders and knees" (The Man That I Am With My Man), we have to wonder: what on Earth could be too taboo for even The Hidden Cameras? What is Joel really thinking about every time he sings 'awoo'? 

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