The Hidden Cameras – [Album]

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Over the last couple of years, it has become fashionable for a band to inflate its sound to out-sized proportions using strings, an army of side musicians, studio trickery – whatever – and present listeners with a lumbering and over-ambitious monster that thy affectionately call a “defining document.” More often than not though, all a band that attempts such an endeavor might prove is that their ambition can get the best of them; whatever they came up with might be neat and may make fans say, “Gee whiz!” but, without bringing those added elements with them to the stage, any concert done to promote the work yields diminished returns. Sure – the band might fill in the gaps with keyboards or playback or they may attempt to rearrange the material in order to avoid the elephant they've voluntarily placed in the middle of their sound but, as soon as concertgoers see and hear it, they know the band is just narrowly pulling something off. That taints the experience.

Such an assumption could be made about The Hidden Cameras' newest album at first – with the bracing sounds that open the record knocking the breath from listeners – except it doesn't hold up; what one hears on Origin: Orphan is only the band – all instrumental seats come stock – and the songs themselves represent the best possible compromise between big and small in that the sound is very, very large but the execution of them is done by a very small group. From the opening build of “Ratify The New,” listeners will be floored by the dynamic, seamless interplay between singer/guitarist Joel Gibb and bassist John Power and the breathtaking sounds that accompany them, but the gag is that the band is actually smaller than it appears and is more a marvel of design and delicacy. There is no ham-fisted, “dense because it took dozens to make” presentation about it, it sounds epic because the needs-first instrumentation is painstakingly placed in the arrangement of the song. The strings (many of which are performed by full-time members of the band) supply drive and tension as well as a cinematic support to Joel Gibb's dramatic,  lonesome vocals and set the mood as bigger than life and wildly exciting, but also surprisingly deceptive as one discovers all that drive was supplied by just two players, Jamie McCarthy on violin and Mike Olsen on cello.

That is the first secret weapon that The Hidden Cameras hold on Origin: Orphan.

The second is that the band quickly illustrates how versatile they can be. Immediately beginning with “In The NA,” every gear in the production shifts and with vintage synths and staccato melodies, The Hidden Cameras seem to throw open a door to a completely different, bustling world brimming with activity and movement – like a compact symphony, complete with enough nooks and crannies for an army to inhabit. Listeners run the risk of being overwhelmed as the as the concrete-solid and all-surrounding sonics tantalize senses. It sounds less like a rock record as it continues; the strings continue to deceive listeners in songs like “Walk On,” “Colour Of A Man” and the title track by sounding bigger and seem to contain the proceedings around the band – it's actually a pretty amazing aural illusion.

Whether the band is suited to such containment depends solely on the listener's point of view; Gibb seems to yelp and sustain surprisingly large melodies in a bid to overpower those walls of sound while his backing band (that includes Matthew on bass, Don Kerr on drums and Laura Barrett on piano from time to time) function as the shoulder upon which the singer will rest when he needs to catch his breath. In each of Origin: Orphan's eleven tracks, that interplay is the enduring one that listeners find themselves respecting best – the singer and music share a symbiotic relationship and it's presented in such a way that a listener is left with the impression that one could not exist without the other.

By the time the minor key and reflective, late-night drive-in intimacy lof “Silence Can Be A Headline” finally settles in to close Origin: Orphan and cast out some heartbreak, anyone listening will find themselves getting misty because Gibb has sucked them in; they're feeling every dramatic turn in a sense far more powerful than third-person. Somehow, everyone is able to relate to that crushing resignation in the end, but ears will flock to the strings supplied by a quintet of contributors because it is the dramatic upswing that reassures everything will be alright. That end is the thing which ensures that The Hidden Cameras will continue, even though this act is over.



The Hidden Cameras – “In The NA” – Origin: Orphan


Origin: Orphan
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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