The Hidden Cameras started out as a quasi-novelty act, known mainly for wildly theatrical concerts, featuring dozens of musicians and dancers acting out bandleader Joel Gibb's hardcore gay fantasies. With 2004's Mississauga Goddam, the Canadian queer-pop collective learned the virtue of modulation, tempering the words a little and even reining in the room-filling sound for something more like the chiming chamber-pop of Belle And Sebastian and The Magnetic Fields. The band's fourth album Awoo keeps the lyrical restraint, but restores some of the energy of The Hidden Cameras' early work, in more of a rock 'n' roll vein.
Awoo comes out of the gate at full gallop, with "Death Of A Tune," a zippy song about how a lover's silence sucks the music out of the room. It's one of the few tracks on the record where drums and guitar get more play than strings. More common are songs like the swaying, R.E.M.-ish title track and "Fee Fie," where the twee orchestration gilds Gibb's lightly folky melodies, connecting them to a tradition that dates at least as far back as the birth of indie-rock, if not symphonic music itself.
Gibb holds the center of these songs, repeating phrases in an affected nasal voice, like he was in the middle of a poetry recital and suddenly decided to break into song. His loose style keeps the pretty music from being merely precious; and when delivered with the infectious energy that Awoo has in abundance, the songs blooms like roses. On the album's best, "She's Gone," the mix of skipping guitars, swirling strings, bongos, Jew's harp, and Gibb's dreamy, distracted vocals sounds classic, yet so distinctive that it's hard to imagine any band but The Hidden Cameras doing it justice.