Awoo. Is it a jubilant exclamation, or more of an exasperated sigh of relief? After listening to The Hidden Cameras’ latest release of the same ambiguous name, I’m leaning toward the latter rather than the former. While Joel Gibb and his mighty Canadian collective combine enough instrumentation to give Kevin Drew and his gang of Broken Social Scenesters a run for their money, Awoo ultimately fails to leave an impression that will last longer than the final reverberations of a glockenspiel (and there are glockenspiels aplenty). Whereas B.S.S. deftly crafts a unique formula of pop subversion, Gibb and company seem like they’re just trying too hard to attain the same greatness of their compatriots (and now label mates). In fact, Awoo is the first Arts and Crafts release all year long that I’ve been less than `wowed’ with.
The instrumentation is lush, ebullient layer upon layer of sunny chamber-pop accented by Gibb’s coyly warbling vocals. But it’s proof that trying to hide a simple (and often uninspired) verse-chorus-verse structure behind dense walls of sound can’t transform a song into something it’s not. Awoo is not a bad record by any means, but with any number of great pop acts producing stellar albums this year—Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Sleepy Jackson, and The Elected to name a few—you’re better off picking from the competition.
In Gibb’s favor, he’s dropped the sexual innuendos that littered past albums, or else hidden the meanings so well that only the most observant (or perverted) will detect them. In place are frolicking upbeat head bobbers filled with careening strings and the aforementioned glockenspiel (“Lollipop”) and strummed reverb and finger cymbals (“Follow These Eyes”). The title track makes ample use of Gibb’s invented vernacular, repeating it after every line of the song and making an entire chorus of “awoos” (sigh).
The Hidden Cameras have been busy creating a catalogue based on consistency, neither producing any repulsive albums, but neither challenging the listener to embrace experimentation in the realm of pop music. Awoo is likely to be lost among its more versed contemporaries when it comes time to review the year’s best, as it is overshadowed by more accomplished pop releases. I can’t say I was disappointed to finally hear a band from Canada of the last few years that didn’t yank me by the earlobes, just maybe a little surprised. After all, it’s important to remember that our neighbors to the North are still only human, and can produce a less than amazing musical endeavor, musical Gods though they may seem at times.