THE HIDDEN CAMERAS with FRITZ HELDER & THE PHANTOMS as part of the Indie Unlimited fest at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Concert Stage, Saturday (August 26), 9:30 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Joel Gibb is hanging out in a recording studio on Toronto Island, waiting for a pair of two-and-a-half- year-olds to come and rock a steady beat.
Once you get past the cute overload of diapered tots wielding drumsticks, the School Of Rock scenario might have you doing a double take. After all, if you go by his media-skewed reputation, it's easier to imagine the Hidden Cameras' prolific bandleader perusing porn theatres and seedy subcultures in search of homoerotic imagery to couch in ecclesiastical lyrics than making like a real-life Jack Black.
But the point about Gibb - and the Cameras - that many people miss is that he's not a perv promoting graphic content for shock or novelty value. With the launch of AWOO (Evil Evil/ Outside), an album massively more focused than the band's past offerings, it's likely folks will stop mentally putting the Hidden Cameras in the same camp as Peaches.
The funny thing, though, is that the disc's basic themes (mortality, particularly as it concerns physical bodies) really aren't all that different from the stuff Gibb's written about in the past.
"I know I'm not supposed to admit this, but I feel like I'm trying to say the same thing," explains Gibb. "Every song grapples with the same issues.
"In blowing certain details out of proportion, people have missed out on a lot of the ideas in the music," he adds. "I've heard the song Golden Streams called Golden Showers more times than I can remember, and that's because certain people want to hear it that way. That's their shit, not mine."
After half a decade of playing to fans' (mis)perceptions as a cult curiosity, the Cameras are ready to get the hell out of the ghetto. You can hear it in the considerably more restrained pop songcraft on the album. Where The Smell Of Our Own and even Mississauga Goddam were packed with track after track of elaborate bells and whistles and organ-drenched exhilaration, AWOO feels like a deliberate attempt to reclaim the reverent space of Gibb's original, independently released Ecce Homo debut.
That's not to say that the Cameras have gotten over their penchant for full-colour orchestration - tunes like the orally fixated Lollipop and string-laced Follow These Eyes still use tons of tracks to glorious effect. There's just more of an underlying calm to the album, a relaxed expansiveness that runs through psychedelic-skewed songs like Learning The Lie and She's Gone.
Sometimes, he says, the words don't even matter - take the album title (AWOO), or the mangled and drawn-out syllables that march smartly to form Lollipop.
"I write music in a phonetic way. Sometimes I'll just think of a melody and sing made-up words onto a tape recorder to remember it, and develop associations to those sounds. The more I've done that, the more I've realized sounds can be beautiful, too.
"I think the record touches on this idea of language being alive," continues Gibb. "Umberto Eco says language is the art of lying, that words are only able to touch on things and point toward truth, so they necessarily lie. I love the idea of the sounds taking over language and pulling it into the realm of music."
Beyond the sonic shifts, AWOO's lyrical content offers fewer red flags for conservative types, which will surely help the Cameras' chances of achieving more commercial success - as will their decision to release AWOO on Arts & Crafts (a label with clear ideas about how to promote Canadian indie rock stateside) in the U.S., as opposed to Rough Trade America.
"Touring America, you can see how ghettoized we are," Gibb sighs. "It's basically just gay guys and a few indie kids. I hope we can expand on what we are with this record in America. It seems like people get us more in Germany and Austria, like they hear us on the radio and just dig the music.
"In the States, our record label put explicit lyrics warnings on our albums - against my wishes! I remember having a discussion about their rules around explicit lyrics - like, you can talk about a penis, but can't talk about it being erect, which means that mentioning hard-ons lands you a warning. But I can think of lots of other albums that are way more explicit than Cameras records."
He pauses. "I think talking about pee is pretty rudimentary. It's so not explicit to a kid."