Record Reviews

Howling At All Hours

It’s not hard to see why The Cannanes – with Stephen O’Neil and Frances Gibson as the only human constants since the perpetually mutating project’s birth in 1984 – is so often mistaken for being part of the Flying Nun stable, and wrongly accused of being ?twee.? Sure, there’s a delicacy to their sound that embraces and complements their very personal narratives, but introspection should never be mistaken for vulnerability. This is a band that has survived a revolving door of members since forming in Sydney, an economic centre not typically sympathetic to their thoughtful mode of creative expression, and the songwriting reflects that.

Maintaining a lyrical simplicity and an understated, though powerful, sense of their own identity, the core members of The Cannanes present a subtle tension of opposites, which intersects at a shared consciousness of the ?bigger picture.? You can hear their different dispositions in the titles and lyrics, where the Gibson-led trundle to the pub in ?Not Camping Out? and references to falling comets in ?Melting Moments? meets James Dutton’s slightly darker turns through eating chips outside juvenile hall in ?Countryside? and rabid rats and possums in ?Is it Because I’m Bleak?, sung by returned member [and M+N contributor] David Nichols.


But, like the sardonic latter song title, what ties the band’s various personas together is a shared consciousness of the ridiculousness of everything. Because, really, there’s no point obsessing over that nagging sense of life’s hopelessness following Howling at all Hours, as its message culminates in Nichols? vocal on ?A Bigger Splash?. Here, a jouncing guitar crunch hurtles through one of few shared vocal numbers, as he bleats on about life’s transience with ?There’s no use pretending/that we were never-ending? while sun-baking on the harbour and reasoning away a fragmented inner monologue with ?If people feel uneasy they should/Just ought to relax/We worry over nothing but/Christ, I want my shades back.?

Think too hard and disconnection from the consuming sense of our global mess becomes a matter of survival, as The Cannanes offer a necessary retreat within the wistful stroll through ?Absence?. The intoxicating effects of boredom and suburban malaise comes in its central guitar-sway, the residue of a distant bass drum and occasional trombone merely washing through its trajectory as Gibson drunkenly repeats ?Running round the driveway at the front of the house.?


And, while album closer ?Limetree? anxiously passes through one of the ?loneliest places,? it’s actually on the gawky standout ?I Woke Up in Hargreaves Mall? that The Cannanes? sad warmth is most keenly felt. A deadpan account of waking up in the Bendigo landmark after a hard night out and the shame that ensues is some of most affecting use of a cheesy keyboard windchime preset I’ve certainly ever heard, and an apt expression of life’s absurdity as Gibson muses: ?In 20 years those trees will grow/The waterfalls will ebb and flow/And no one then will ere recall/When I went out in Hargreaves Mall.?