Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Hidden Cameras Come Home

The last couple of Hidden Cameras albums have seen Joel Gibb and co. moving further and further away from the signature sound that Gibb once dubbed "gay church folk music". 2009's Origin:Orphan explored a variety of different genres and tossed bombastic brass arrangements and cool electronic touches into the pot, while 2014's Age had a darker atmosphere and an '80s underground sort of feel that incorporated elements of goth and dub music.

But now it would appear that Joel Gibb - who was born in Ontario but moved to Berlin some time ago - has had his fill of exploration for the time being and is ready to go home. The Hidden Cameras' new album is called Home on Native Land, and Gibb has described it as both "a return to my homeland" and "an inquisitive ode to Canada".

The record's most obvious celebration of Canada is track 6, a very fun recording of a Canadian folk standard called The Log Driver's Waltz that features several of Gibb's countrymen and women (namely Leslie Feist, Rufus Wainwright, and Mary Margaret O'Hara) joining in on the chorus:

More generally, much of Home on Native Land sounds like the sort of thing you'd hear in the pub while you carouse and catch up with old friends who have come home for Christmas. There's the tinkly barroom piano that twinkles atop Drunk Dancer's Waltz like frost on a rooftop; there are covers of old favourites like Dark End of the Street; there are even occasional pub-rock guitar licks that frankly sound completely unlike anything we've heard from The Hidden Cameras previously. Closing track Twilight of the Season sounds to me like the song the bar band plays at the end of the night to send the late-night drinkers home in a cheerful mood:

But Home on Native Land isn't just a return to the physical place that Joel Gibb came from - it's also, in part, a return to the musical landscape he left behind when he set out to broaden his sonic horizons on Age and Origin:Orphan. At times, this album does chart new territory of its own (that territory being country music - check out the twangy You and Me Again and the crooning lap steel guitar lines on Be What I Want), but several tracks would have sounded right at home on 2006's AWOO. Most notably, Feeling 'Bout You and my personal highlight The Great Reward have precisely the  same bright, heavenly feel as Wandering, the tenth track on AWOO.

This similarity should come as no great surprise - most of the songs on the new album were reportedly written circa AWOO and back-burnered while Gibb worked on other stuff. Crucially, though, AWOO was the first Hidden Cameras album I owned; its opening track, Death of a Tune, was the first Hidden Cameras song to find my ears. Even though AWOO was the band's fourth album, for me it's still the blueprint for what exactly they sound like.

Thus, to my mind, Home on Native Land is a homecoming not just in that it asserts a renewed grip on Gibb's Canadian roots, but also in that it sort of sounds like The Hidden Cameras have decided to go back to their roots and start being The Hidden Cameras again, even if it's only for Christmas.

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