HIDDEN CAMERAS We sound GREAT with a cello!
Hidden Cameras
Sat Feb 5
1001 SE Morrison

Accountancy has a lot more in common with pop music criticism than most of us would likely admit. Tax codes aside, the main commonality the two share, however, has to do with a certain checking of the books--a simple matter of addition that serves to evaluate whether music is greater, less-than, or equal to the sum of expectation. And despite near-perfect bookkeeping on their part, it is in this that the Hidden Cameras just don't somehow add up.

The Hidden Cameras, on paper at least, should conceivably be my favorite band in the world. In their self-proclaimed (and endlessly re-quoted) "gay folk church music," as masterminded by Torontian Joel Gibb, the seemingly endless membership of the Cameras pledge nearly everything I am personally drawn to in pop idolatry: a literate, multi-dimensional approach to storytelling replete with highly sexual thematic under- and overtones; orchestral, evocative (yet limp-wristed) delivery; and a dramatic, art school flair for performance. The band is just overflowing with the sort of things that would usually make for a pretty easy aggrandizing puff-piece on my end. And with lyrics like "I drank from the wine and came from inside/the heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet," (from "That's When the Ceremony Starts," off their latest, Mississauga Goddam), there's more than enough ammunition. After all of the press that greeted the band's debut, last year's The Smell of Our Own, I approached the collective with surprisingly wide arms--and yet, as long as I have yearned to fully embrace the thoughtful, deliberate vision of the Hidden Cameras, there's just one thing that I can't help but struggle with: the band's music.

Which is, of course, the point.

It's not for lack of trying. Gibb clearly works his ass off to polish up his songs with lush, thoughtfully ornate orchestrations--and his productions, though a little staid, lift the surroundings admirably. But that's just the problem. The Hidden Cameras suffer more than a little from what we'll call Polyphonic Spree Syndrome: that of sprucing up frail, unremarkable songs with disproportionately elaborate orchestration until, if by sheer volume alone, you've managed to choir, glockenspiel, and string-section your audience into submission. Because really--doesn't everything sound pretty good with a cello?

The unfortunate product of such a working method is a sort of inverted gestalt, wherein which the band's sprawling whole falls significantly short of the sum of its individually compelling parts. And if there's one thing that I've learned in this business, it's that you trust the numbers.