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Hidden Cameras return after long layoff with 'queer rage' record 'Age'

Joel Gibb of the group "Hidden Cameras" is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Elsa Quarsell

TORONTO - This week, the Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb releases "Age," his first new album in nearly five years — although the term "new" is something of a misnomer.

Scathing first single "Gay Goth Scene," for instance, has been a fixture in Gibb's live performances for a dozen years, but he only saw fit to issue it on record now. The same is true of several of the album's eight theatrical, moody tracks, which were recorded in different years in different places with different producers.

"Normal people get together, they rehearse the songs, then they go into the studio and they record them together in one place," Gibb said in a recent interview at Toronto's Drake Hotel. "This was recorded over years, over studios, over continents.

"I wouldn't advise that. It's a lot to take in. Each song has its own beginning and process and everything."

An album that could have resulted in a disparate hodgepodge, however, is held together by Gibb's esthetic focus and a sense of righteous exasperation that's threaded throughout.

The album is an experiment in writing in F-minor for Gibb — who splits his time between his native Toronto and Berlin — which lends the record its relentlessly melancholy feel.

But "Age" also bristles with frustration, which is partly what united these songs for Gibb.

"I was putting these songs onto one record for a reason," he said. "This would be my angry record. The term 'queer rage' hasn't really been used, not the way that black rage has ... so I think there's still lots of space and room in our culture for queer rage to manifest itself.

"In a way, it's like a queer rage record somehow."

Musically, the record is fuelled largely by synthesizers, electronic drums, keyboards and Echoplex digital looping units. "Gone," pointed out Gibb, "are the musical signifiers of (2003's) 'The Smell of Our Own,' which would be acoustic guitars, pipe organ, harp, tambourine. None of those things are on this record."

Yet he still believes "Age" has the elusive feel of a Hidden Cameras record.

"I hope that the sound is my voice and my songwriting and how I arrange my voice," he said.

"Age" wasn't the only result of Gibb's lengthy hiatus from recording. He's actually completed a second new record, which he said he wants to put out soon.

Unsurprisingly for the chameleonic songwriter, it bears little resemblance to "Age."

"This new one is more, like, rootsy. I don't know what you want to call it. It's got pedal steel and banjo, those are the signifiers. It's tender. It's Canadiana to me. It's kind of deconstructing my heritage, whereas this record is deconstructing my adolescence."

Gibb said he chose the record's title because it was short because he feels the record has a coming-of-age theme, and because he's looking back with perspective at a specific time in life.

But he mused on the fact that it's also relevant because he feels slightly out of step with this era in music. He would have fit in better, he noted, in the '70s.

"I hate Soundcloud and Spotify. I don't even care. I don't even want to hear about what any of this stuff means, the pros and cons," he said with a rueful smile. "I just don't care. I'm not interested. I feel like I don't belong to this age somehow.

"Like, I'm one of the only people who doesn't have an iPhone. And I hate iPhones. I think they're a symbol of the destruction of civilization. People just need to put them down. ... I actually wrote a song called 'Put Your Phone Down.' Maybe I'll try to remember it."

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