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.