Within Joel Gibb’s every move lies the steadfast elegance of a conductor. Fervently-tempered, yet exquisite like a floral bouquet on a Victorian chest. Somewhere between Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire, sumptuous, unbridled.
Since 2001, the Canadian has played with his band The Hidden Cameras. In the churches of Toronto he staged the most legendary nights of the city. Male gogo dancers offered a performative space for overturning normative categories, questioning religion, and celebrating sexuality. Gibb shaped Toronto’s music scene at a time when it was practically nonexistent. He was the first Canadian artist to sign with Rough Trade. In the meantime, Joel Gibb lives in Berlin and has found his place, as songwriter and as artist. On “AGE”, he is no longer concerned with who he is, but rather, with how he came to be.
“’AGE’ deconstructs my musical roots”. There are the faintest references in every piece, almost inaudibly miniature, but they are there. Actually, to understand “AGE”, you have to place your ear to the ground and try to will yourself to hear the growth of the roots beneath its surface while closing your eyes and sifting out all other sounds, including your own heartbeat.
With “Year of the Spawn”, there are trumpets, trombones, a French horn, and behind this thicket, between the ghostly overtones, the ice-cold drum beat of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” flickers throughout the second verse. Chilly Gonzales is on the piano. Joel Gibb works like a graphic artist. He engineers meticulous sound-sculptures and collages whose exactitude stays concealed at first behind an aesthetic of extremely harmonious, yet also dreary, pop music.
“Gay Goth Scene”, for example, was originally intended as a joke, as an ironic finger exercise. Now, it sounds sacred like a requiem for forbidden love. The song is already more than ten years old. Gibb wrote it while still living at his mother’s. In Toronto, he even organized Gay Goth Scene shows with friends. Once again, beneath layers of violins and Gibb’s dark baritone, one finds a meta-level that hints toward his childhood. Mary Margaret O’Hara’s voice is also to be heard on the track. The same Mary Margaret O’Hara who can be heard in Morrissey’s “November Spawned a Monster”.
“AGE” is, to a certain extent, Joel Gibb’s coming-of-age album. He retrospectively explores the most diverse shades of age. Age should not only be comprehended in terms of years; its meanings are too multi-layered. Age can mean anything, but above all, age means to assume moral responsibility. It is no coincidence that Bradley Manning’s profile graces the album’s inside cover. We already live in the Bradley Manning age. For Gibb, Manning is one rare man with decency who has acted honorably with regard to his human responsibilities. Gibb presents Manning as an icon, as a queer freedom-fighter.
For Gibb, being a songwriter means writing about what you know and to take on responsibility. Honesty is his supreme maxim. “If I can’t be honest with oneself, what kind of a bad artist will I be?” Age is a manifesto of truth written primarily in F-minor. And F-minor, we all know, is the key of lament and dejection, yet also of longing and a dark, helpless melancholy. Like with Wilde and Baudelaire, it can also be seen with Gibb that behind every flowery aesthetic is a skeptic looking out the window.