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Celebratory indie-folk spirituals from the Canadian Belle & Sebastian

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Devotional music, as any songwriter who has idolised a lover will testify, doesn’t have to be addressed to a god. In the hands of Joel Gibb, however, the rituals of religious ecstasy are a boundless source of inspiration and metaphor. On Gibb’s third album as frontman of riotous Toronto ensemble The Hidden Cameras, sex and sacramental ritual are combined, and any number of spiritual tropes are used to express earthly desires. Bodies are worshipped, in all their hairy, dirty glory. Music is a transformative, sexualised holy spirit. And ascension need not be to a higher spiritual plane, but merely out of a Godforsaken new town in Ontario.

More than last year’s The Smell Of Our Own, Mississauga Goddam is a compelling rites-of-passage record. On “Music Is My Boyfriend”, Gibb details the comfort he found in music as an adolescent coming to terms with his homosexuality, trapped in a dreary town. “I found music, and he found me,” he sings, “I kissed his ugly gangling greens, he swallowed my pee.”

The lack of squeamishness here about bodily functions finds fullest expression in “I Want Another Enema”, a satire on hygiene fetishists which will doubtless arouse the prurient in much the same way as last year’s “Golden Streams”.

To stereotype them as proselytisers of a gay body politic is, however, missing many of the pleasures of The Hidden Cameras. It’s just that the conflation of explicit imagery, religious metaphor and what continues to sound like churchy music is so striking. Listening to the exuberant chants, you’re reminded of a folk mass written by Jonathan Richman, or something by Belle & Sebastian?which may amount to the same thing.

Occasionally, the sunniness and repetition of the songs can be exhausting, despite the provocative semiotic games Gibb is playing. And while the devotional concept is meticulously executed, and Mississauga Goddam is an effective and affecting mix of content and form, a further album of this ‘gay church folk music’ might be pushing our faith, well, a little too far.


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