[21 September 2009]
“Forget what you know / Leave your home” intones Joel Gibb on opening number, “Ratify the New”, and indeed it feels just like that. The Hidden Cameras know all about dynamics - whether over the course of a song or a full album, their ability to ebb and flow, to build and drop, is masterful. “Ratify the New” begins like a spiritual cleansing, a lengthy purging drone to clear your head and thoughts, before the Gregorian vocal is revealed, all the while its ritualistic percussion building and building until the song reaches a fever pitch. It feels like a tantric release - bigger than just a pop song; more like stumbling across something strange and beautiful and sacred playing out in a field in the middle of the night.
The Hidden Cameras have never been ones to do things by halves. Like many of their similar kin (The Polyphonic Spree, The Sleepy Jackson), they make capital ‘B’ big pop music, fond of orchestras and harmonies. Listening to them can call to mind several bands at once – the literate bent of The Go-Betweens, the cadence and phrasing of Morrissey, the embrace of melancholy electro of Hot Chip or The Pet Shop Boys, and the fractured pop dreams of The Magnetic Fields. Like all the above mentioned bands, they know a little pretension is no bad thing, but The Hidden Camera’s have a lightness of touch and a love of simple pop structures which anchors them from disappearing into pomposity. Lead single “In the NA” is a good example – its playful synth parps propelling the somewhat novelty-ish charm of the single (and accompanying video). Equally, track 5 “Do I Belong” feels like a lost Soft Cell classic – its classic rock theme and melody (“Waiting all day by the telephone / Wondering if you’re gonna call) delivered over tinny synths. “Underage” is the closest this group get to approaching the topic of sex (‘Let’s do it like we’re underage’) and seems to use Graceland as its template, utilising a comparable mixture of its wordless chanted hooks and clipped funky guitars.
When the group resist the urge to try out their weird and wonderful electronic toys and avant-garde leanings, the resultant music is some of their strongest and prettiest. “Colour of a Man”’s breezy melody, sweeping strings and lightly strummed guitar is a gorgeous mid-point highlight perfectly suited to soundtracking summer sunsets. Speaking of soundtracks, much of the second half of the album could be described as ‘filmic’, however hollow that term might be now. What I mean by it is they have a sense of space and a heightened drama and mood not commonly found on the charts or radio. “Walk On”’s stately arrangement, a mixture of electronic sounds and spy film brass underpins some of the loneliest lyrics of the album: “And there’s nothing that I’d rather want to be than hopeless”. Equally, the sense of foreboding and melancholy on ‘Origin-Orphan’ is mesmerising; its nagging descending riff is the closest the band comes to a 60s psychedelic sound, tapping into that dark undercurrent just before the bubble burst.
Rarely will you find a more fitting album closer than ‘”Silence is a Headline”. Stripped of his beloved double tracking, Gibb’s vocals now sound more human and real, adding an extra gravitas to lines like ‘Silence can be forgiven / My eyelids can close forever’. And like the Origin: Orphan’s opening, the end feels bigger than it is, its desperation tempered with a sense of hope; filmic again, it sounds made for a montage of star-crossed lovers finding their way back to each other. Albums are often proclaimed as a trip, but so often just spin their wheels; The Hidden Cameras succeed in taking you on a journey. Go with them.