27.2.10

NICE : Debut LP (1991)

Nice 1st
Feel Good All Over was a fine little endeavour, one of the first American labels to make serious in-roads towards issuing some of the terrific, off-kilter music that began pouring out of New Zealand & Australia at the end of the 1980s. Though short lived, it's early roster included Antipodean legends such as The Dead C, Crabstick, The Terminals, Cyclops & The Cannanes.

The Cannanes were, I suppose, Australia's answer to Beat Happening (who were also briefly affiliated with FGAO), & their amateurist, weak-kneed folk was/is a fine example of a parochial music that, having gestated in splendid isolation, ended up sounding utterly unique. Wichetty Pole, FGOA's compilation of early Cannanes recordings, was rarely off my stereo in the mid-90s, peculiar pop songs like "Brain" & "Love Only Takes A Minute" often sounding like a scrawny, shambolic Go-Betweens or Verlaines. The voice of many of those curious songs was one Randall Lee & when, after a handful of Cannanes releases, he & the rest of the band parted company, Mr. Lee's immediate riposte was Nice, whose self-titled debut is a long-lost must-have masterpiece of baroque, country-influenced melancholia.

At this point I should probably admit that I've never actually owned a copy of Nice's debut. It was difficult to track down from the off & I only ever had a cassette dub of it, taped for me by a minor English indie celeb (ahem) who'd swapped it with the band themselves for records of his own. I loved it the moment I heard it &, believe me, that unassuming cassette was played & replayed to within an inch of it's natural life.

Nice's debut is an album of two halves. About 50% of it is written & sung by Lee & it's those songs that I fell in love with first, rather obsessively in fact. The other half, written by or with bassist Susannah Stuart-Lindsay, unfortunately suffer by comparison to Lee's tremendous efforts (but are definite growers). The opening "Dear John" creates such a dark-hued mood of loneliness & unspecified impending doom that I've always had difficulty getting as far as the next track (the lilting, yes lilting, "Head In The Hay") - even now, I just want to play that first, hypnotic song over & over. Though it initially seems like a run-of-the-mill spurned boyfriend song there's evidently something more unsettling at work here. I can't help but wondering who's most pitiful - poor, abandoned "John" or his nameless, estranged lover, who's obviously intent on keeping him at arm's length with her self-deluding descriptions of an exotic, new found (possibly ill-fated) "happiness"? Like "Pink Frost", "Cattle & Cane" or "Death & The Maiden", "Dear John" is another in that long line of timeless Antipodean pop songs.

Throughout, Lee's songs paint a darkly romantic, uncanny rural landscape of clouds, sheep & not a lot else (the deadpan "Pastoral Disaster" provides a handy summation). There's a faint disquiet underscoring everything however, never more so than on"Christiana Amore", it's lonely protagonist struggling with unrequited sexual longing & faltering religious conviction like some backwoods Bill Callahan. And like Callahan, I suspect Lee might be an accomplished character actor, in song at least.

Lee split Nice after one more LP (the less focussed Apple Pie) to concentrate on Ashtray Boy, who still perform & record intermittently (their The Honeymoon Suite LP is certainly worth a listen) & whose line-up currently includes a couple of ex-Cannanes.

N.B. Many, many thanks to Mr./Mrs. Anon at The Mythic Signifier who provided the bespoke link for this.

7 comments:

  1. I might have an extra copy of the 1st Nice album, if you're interested -- send me your address and I'll mail it to you. -- J. Niimi, Ashtray Boy

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  2. Wow, if you could find a copy for me that'd be amazing, you might have noticed that I absolutely LOVE this LP! If you send me your e-mail address in a message here (obviously I won't publish it) I'll defo drop you a line. Many thanks, IAN x

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  3. Thanks

    Keep on eye on Stiped Sunlight Sound blog, will have the first Ashtray Boy cassette up in the near future. Also some other Cannanes related goodies.

    Steve

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  4. Thanks Steve, took a look at your blog, it's really impressive. Can't wait to start grabbing those Fast Forward tapes, etc...

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  5. I often get a visitor or two from your site over at Barney Bubbles.

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  6. I love this album! I was and still am obsessed with the Cannanes and Flying Nun bands in high school (after expanding my musical horizons beyond sludgy, metallic and super aggro 80s post punk -- pretty much the opposite!). Reading up more on the Cannanes and Randall Lee, I realized I was actually familiar with a few Nice songs -- "Circuit diagram" and "Theme from nice" were on the soundtrack of an early 90s television show on Nickelodeon called the Adventures of Pete and Pete. I somehow came across a copy of that album used for 99 cents about five or six years ago and haven't gone more than a few weeks without listening to it since. "Dear John" almost instantly became my favorite song. The time signature is insane. It sounds like it's going constantly back and forth on itself. (I think they liked "Cattle and Cane" by the Go-Betweens a fair bit! My second favorite song). Your description got it so well. It has this sad, longing distant feeling and a sort of hazy, atmospheric quality that sounds almost out-of-time, whereas the second album sounds much more dated. (I don't know how to describe that, exactly, I failed music theory). I guess what really strikes me about it is that it could have been done really tongue-in-cheek yet they chose to dig deeper. I've never heard anything else quite like it.

    The rest of the album is great, too. It's almost like a collection of short stories set in rural Australia. "Caress me", "All for you", "Oversized hen" -- all great songs. I like Stuart-Lindsay's songs too (like "Circuit Diagram", but there's so much passion in Lee's songs. More humor, too.

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  7. Hey Aimi, glad to see that someone is as impressed & obsessed with this LP as me! Nice really captured a strange & evocotive mood with this one, I've never been able to pin down what makes it so eerie exactly, but it really reflects the isolation & weirdness of the Australian backwoods, & the clash of that ancient landscape with encroaching modern civilisation somehow? It's crazy that it's been out of print for so long... x

    P.S. Cannanes are playing here shortly first time they've visited, can't wait!

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