hidden-camerasSo, the quite wonderful Hidden Cameras, Joel Gibb’s Canadian troupe of “gay church folk music” makers, are back with their fifth, and quite possibly finest album yet. Where to start?Well, the first of several remarkable and admirable things about this release is that it sounds like a real album. By which I mean the flow of tracks, from the impressive, mega-dramatic opener ‘Ratify The New’ (sustained long long suspenseful opening note, slowly increasing in volume and gravity with mysterious background half-heard groans and mutters), through the arc of near-perfection of single ‘In The Na’, ‘He Falls To Me’ and ‘Colour Of A Man’, and onwards, well, for the album’s entire length. These are tracks that are simultaneously immediately enjoyable but also worth getting one’s teeth into, worthy of repeated listens and long inconclusive analyses. Although the pace, mood and melodies vary, there is definitely nevertheless a shared atmosphere, aesthetic and feel which means that each track here very much fits together with the others, allowing the sum to add up to even more than the already extremely good constituent parts.This is such a good album that one is almost loathe to pick it too much to pieces: each listener will have their own treat in store uncovering its charms for themself. Here, though, are a few pointers towards aspects that struck me as particularly glorious.- Beautiful songwriting. Noteable in particular on ‘In The Na’, ‘He Falls To Me’ (see especially the swoonsome bit of melody that accompanies the “In my head / In my bed” couplet), ‘Colour Of A Man’, ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘The Little Bit’ (nearly a Show Tune, but in a good way) and the melancholy, wistful ‘Silence Can Be A Headline’. These are all tunes that will stay with you for a long long time.- Gorgeous vocal. See all of the above. Gibb is one of those singers that has the wonderful ability to adapt the tone and pitch of his delivery to the song’s content. So he is jaunty on ‘In The Na’, ‘Underage’ (of which more later) and ‘The Little Bit’, but achingly melancholic on ‘Silence Can Be A Headline’, and ‘Colour Of A Man’ - all tuneful vibrato and longing.- Romance and sex. These are songs that have as much heart as they have, err, balls. The gay aspect is neither glossed over nor camped up (and there is, of course, no earthly reason why it ought to be either), but love and lust, affection and fucking are all covered in a real, honest, fundamentally grown up way. ‘Kingdom Come’ sees the narrator questioning himself about his feelings and impulses: “Am I a slave to desire?”, he wonders, and, more humorously “Will I be lewd to the dude?”. ‘Underage’ is the track most likely to cause Shock Horror Controversy but, on balance, it really ought not, suggesting as it does a role play (“I’ll pretend you’re seven / You pretend I’m eight”) that is mutual and playful, rather than a paedophiliac fantasy of an adult seducing a child. And this, astonishingly, is set to a perky Lion-Sleeps-Tonight-alike cod-Afrobeat tune.  Elsewhere the focus falls more on romantic love, like in the yearning ‘Colour Of A Man’, ‘He Falls To Me’, ‘Do I Belong’ (“Waking up with you beside me / How can I go wrong?”), or ‘The Little Bit’, with its happy-ever-after aspirations (“We could start a family”).- Rich, luscious production. The depth of instrumentation (strings, brass, synths, sound effects) combine with the songwriting and singing strengths with a highly polished and crafted finish of depth to frequently euphoric effect.If pressed, I would perhaps point to a small sag in the middle of the album, with ‘Do I Belong’ (track 5) and ‘Walk On’ (track 6) being marginally less enjoyable in isolation than those that surround them on both sides.  It is a testament to this album’s coherence and strength, though, that they are still very much key elements, whose omission would make the overall piece weaker rather than stronger.This, then, is indeed a fine, fine release. Complex, intelligently constructed yet – as with all the best music – deceptively easy to listen to, admire and outright love, it has certainly earned its place in as many Best of Year lists as possible and, indeed, in your record collection.RECOMMENDED

Buy the album from Amazon | [itunes link="http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?id=328233751&s=143444&uo=4" title="The_Hidden_Cameras-OriginOrphan_(Album)" text="iTunes"]