The Hidden Cameras and Girl Talk have something in common. Words in their songs are amusing filler. The melody, the beats — that’s where it’s at. Lyrics are an afterthought, it seems — not meaningless, mind you, especially in the case of The Hidden Cameras.
The Cameras’ new album is their best. Singer/songwriter Joel Gibbs’ art-school elusiveness is at its most charming. He still uses extremely abstract metaphors but he also sings with the exuberance of a child learning to pronounce new words.
The album’s title Awoo is a sound not a word. There are times Gibb shouts or sings words repeating them again and again. He just loves the feeling of sounding a specific word. The way the vowels roll off his tongue, the exotic solidness of consonants. It’s as if he’s had a self-realization and can’t grasp the emotion with just the human obviousness of putting words together coherently to describe his feelings. He has to like the way they sound, too. The words are the music.
The opening “Death Of A Tune” is classic Cameras. The arrangement is what you expect. The band always plays with an intense yet spirited fashion. The guitars nervously tremble. Drums and cymbals can’t look you in the face. And Gibb sings like he only has a minute to sing his five-minute ditty. “Silence from you is like the death of a tune/ I have been driven down by those nursery rhymes.”
“Lollipop” will drive you crazy with either love or pure hate. Gibb really lets go. He sings, “Mouth of salivating froth/ Thy stomach does as stomach wants/ Contagious every single suck/ The flavour takes it/ Takes its time/ Lollipop/ Lollipop.” His nasal, fast-paced callout is slightly annoying but you can’t deny that he sings the word “lollipop” with as much joyful vigour as Lesley Gore (“Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows”) and Millie Small (“My Boy Lollipop”).
“Heaven Turns To” and “Wandering” are the prettiest and most delicate tracks on the album. The strings on “Heaven” and guitars on both tracks tippytoe through Gibbs’ Christmas carol singing. The songs stand out because there is tenderness in them. The arrangements are subtle and laidback. You don’t feel the hot-under-the-collar uneasiness that the rest of the album has.
With Awoo, The Hidden Cameras no longer seem to be taking apprehensive baby steps with their sounds and emotions. Gibbs’ songwriting has progressed to a point where all the elements have converged and you can feel that he’s let the band into his heart, mind and soul. They truly get it now.
Girl Talk’s third album, Night Ripper, is an unbelievable 45-minute mash-up of samples from more than 150 top-40 hits and obscure gems (1970s old-school classics play Twister with 21st-century hip-hop and pop faves). It plays like old Hooked On Classics and Stars On 45 (popular pop tune mash-up compilations of the ’70s and ’80s) on acid. But Girl Talk is way smarter than those compilations ever were. There’s nothing out there in pop that is cooler and as exuberantly silly as this.
The extremely clever Pittsburgh native Greg Gillis has a way of mixing songs together so that they are pure meaningless froth one minute and ultra-clever brain- blowers the next. The music never falters. The beats are pieced meticulously. The samples are wildly diverse, making the album both fresh and familiar.
When you hear Paul McCartney And The Wing’s “I love you” chorus (from “Silly Love Songs”) mixed with 2 Live Crew chanting “We want some pussy,” or Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” piano lines caressing Notorious BIG’s verbal rants, well, there’s magic in the air. I mean, any dude who throws together 50 Cent, The Waitresses, Madonna, Seals And Crofts, Paula Abdul and, for Christ’s sake, James Taylor and manages to make it all seamless and true, then you have to respect the insanity.
Gillis has such a diverse taste in music. He knows that laughable Michael McDonald tracks have elements as relevant and brilliant as supposedly “smart” tunes by Kanye West or, say, MIA. A synth tinkle from a Hall And Oates track becomes epic. A crunchy guitar lick from Elastica is vital and, when plucked from obscurity, lives again, never to be forgotten. Gillis respects it all.
There are 16 tracks, but the album as a whole just has to be the best dance track of the year. You’ll love trying to guess the tunes as you boogie with your hips and get down with your mouth.
Grab it while you can! None of the samples are licensed.