The Hidden Cameras - The Smell of Our Own (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews

The Hidden Cameras - The Smell of Our Own (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews
Twenty years ago, Joel Gibbs joyfully preached a vision of gay revolution. His group’s debut offered a prescient vision of the currents that power queer culture today.

At the dawn of the new millennium, charismatic hunk leader Joel Gibbs gathered his apostles, tens of ragtag Torontonians with fluency in gay culture and faith in indie rock. They gathered organs of every kind, from throats on down, and began hosting ceremonies in porn houses and museums. Crucially, they did their work in houses of worship, of both the dancing and devotional kinds. They called it “Gay Folk Church Music.” In 2002, with just some demos on a CD-R called Ecce Homo and a few gigs under their belt, the Hidden Cameras won converts across the city. Even Rough Trade heads Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee came to Canada to witness.

A news report on their pilgrimage surfaces as part of the 20th-anniversary celebration for The Smell of Our Own, the Hidden Cameras’ debut album. You can see how they pulled Travis and Lee into their flock. In the beginning, the band gussied up the egalitarian gang mentality of Belle and Sebastian with the gay-and-loud flamboyance of queercore. They put on shows, with themes like “Bread and Shit” and “Skulls” and “Disease” and dancers dragged up in sports costumes and excitable twink choreography and no real demarcation between those watching the scene and the people plucking harps, pounding timpani, bowing strings, and crying out in joy and rage. At the center of it all was Gibbs delivering his gay revolution psalms and infectious paeans to drinking piss.

The Smell of Our Own, which Rough Trade put out in 2003, starts with a pipe organ pumping. It ends that way, too. It surrounds Gibbs’ versatile pipes, sometimes crooning like a post-coital Karen Carpenter and sometimes calling out like Slim Whitman or Sylvester, with choirs stacked with luminaries including Owen Pallett and the Fifth Column’s G.B. Jones. Its 10 songs, not a dud among them, thrust complicated existential and spiritual concerns into boisterous orchestral pop. “Golden Streams” is a urophilic fantasia in which the bonds created by the intimate act become literal world-building, as the piss cools into ice. “A city of gold that lives in broad daylight,” Gibbs proselytizes, then prophesies its ruin as he and his lover flood it again. The legend is soundtracked by heralding trumpets, swells of Pallett’s violin and viola, belfries of vibraphone and glockenspiel and sleigh bells. The allegorical “Animals of Prey” is equally baroque: Gibbs and co. “descend on fours” like moles, fuck and kiss, and “ascend as swans.” Gay sex is metamorphical. A Hammond organ throbs like blood.

Virilely, they pack a couple climaxes into the original album’s 43 minutes. “The Man That I Am With My Man” queers the idea of blood brothers. Two lovers wash and consume each other, then become a literal army of lovers. “We could be in the army or the Klan,” Gibbs warns—and, truly, the subsequent decades have proven that gay men, from Andrew Sullivan to George Santos, are as likely to be found at the forefront of racist and transphobic movements as they are in the #resistance. “Boys of Melody” offers counterpoint. In five minutes that build into a shattering crescendo rivaling “O Holy Night” for sonic reverence (and faith in the virtues of falling to your knees), Gibbs takes up a pack of ghosts who leave the sea to cruise the beach. They sing in harmony. They march along. They’re finally, finally happy. The song is a coup, a fairy tale, both a recording and invocation of the kind of queer joy we all should be so lucky to witness. I swear there are generations in the echoes.

If “Boys of Melody” is a cathedral, the live take from a contemporaneous CBC session is a blueprint of how to build one yourself: Get some friends and some instruments, and voilà. Other tracks on the reissue prove Gibbs was a kind of visionary, tapping into the currents that power queer culture today. A demo of their introductory anthem “Ban Marriage” lacks the finished version’s majesty but feels somehow more revolutionary in its intimate arrangement of mostly acoustic guitar and percussion. As the story goes, a groom shows up at the altar after a night of glory holes. God then appears, not to condemn gays for wanting to marriage but to condemn the joyless institution entirely. It’s a riot. B-Side “Fear of ’Zine Failure” could have come out last fall, when New York City’s queer cognoscenti made the Art Book Fair the sold-out social event of the season, with hundreds left feeling like flops on the sidewalk when they couldn’t make the scene. The album’s magical “A Miracle” appears here as a humble demo, shorn of its blooming string arrangements but leaving its thorny disquisition into the nature of suffering intact. The song threads bug chasing, bad dreams, sodomy, martyrdom, and Anne Murray-style vocals, and it’s a miracle indeed.

More live tracks finish off this very welcome reissue. “Shame,” a private interrogation of the gender politics of picking up closet cases, becomes a shimmering invocation of sexual solidarity. And gathered together, “Breath on It” and “Day Is Dawning” are proof that the Hidden Cameras can pitch a tent revival wide enough to take in the psychedelic Christian visions of Judee Sill and the holy fuck of Prince and the rip-roaring filth of John Waters and the DIY shambolic fervor of their Rough Trade brethren. Like all evangelicals, their point might be that they believe, and if they can, so can you. Get your organs ready. Let’s begin.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Hidden Cameras - The Smell of Our Own (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews The Hidden Cameras - The Smell of Our Own (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 24, 2023 Rating: 5


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