Let’s be honest, the Australian music scene hasn't had many world-beaters. You shout AC/DC at me but everyone knows deep down that they're Scottish born and contribute to the rich history of Scottish music. Others shout Gotye, although he's from Bruges. Then some shout Men at Work, yeah... Truth is, Australia's music scene has been slowly developing for years. They finally have bands that can cater for American and European audiences. There's The Bombay Royale, Nick Cave, Cut Copy, Abbe May, Tame Impala, and The Cannanes - the latter band being our focus today. We take a listen to their 11th studio album Howling At All Hours. Known for their indie rock aesthetics and historic 80s free for all, The Cannanes are regarded as a quintessential indie band. Some have gone far enough to call them 'the one true indie band'. In their 29 year history, The Cannanes have never signed to a major, releasing singles on the infamous K Records and their albums on Ajax - among other small labels.
Howling At All Hours describes the day-to-day life of The Cannanes. There’s no money money money drugs drugs drug on this album. It's all about Australia, Sydney, the inland residences, and everything twee from the land down under. The Cannanes are like their K Records companions Beat Happening. All things twee and indie pop, like lo-fidelity recordings, sweet melodies, and geographical references galore. They never relate to their underground status on album form, because if they did, then The Cannanes would have hundreds of songs about how unsuccessful they actually are in their homeland. It's a completely different story in the states, and an invisible story in the UK. Reports of Kurt Cobain being a fan of The Cannanes are true, something that will make the average American kid listen just for the sentimental value of a Cobain like music taste. They throw out 29 years of history each time they release music. It's as if they're on a merry-go-round of indie pop, without the inclination to get off. Criminally underrated music is in its plenty, and The Cannanes are certainly one of the few bands in existence that have survived for so long with such anonymity on the D.I.Y circuit.
"Stephanie" opens the album with lyrics that suggest acknowledged history: "Well here we go again." The Cannanes have been acclaimed in the past for many reasons, but not so for their lyrics. Howling At All Hours has emphasis on the song-writing of Frances Gibson. The second track "Not Camping Out" tells a travelling tale about the streets of Sydney: "Sleazy sun kissed blondes, jeans white T shirts, stuck in the traffic half way down King Street." The imagery of Sydney’s populated streets continues with some youthful rebellion: "You wrote in the pavement 'people suck', now it’s paved over, we don't forget." The Cannanes are all about the story, the instrumental comes after. For a band of 29 years’ experience, you expect production qualities to be rather good, well The Cannanes blow that out of the water. In the past this band has released some raw quality recordings suited to Jad Fair's growing lo-fi discography, however Howling At All Hours is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It has lead guitar better than The Strokes' Comedown Machine on "A Bigger Splash", and a better delivery of lyrics than Adele could ever do with "Countryside". The Australian imagery continues on this track, with Stephen O'Neil singing: "Why's everyone wearing surf wear when the seas 200k from here? These are not my people and this is not my tribe, 'go live in the city' everybody cries."
Howling At All Hours has its weak moments, just like every album. "I Woke Up In Hargreaves Mall" takes on traditional folk with synthesizers and strange vocals. Credit to Gibson for attempting the Dolly Collins vocal, it just comes off a little too strained. The Cannanes are not known for their vocals, in fact, indie pop is renowned for its half arsed vocalists that don't care about being in tune, and it’s what puts such emphasis on the lyrics. You're not focussing on how accurate a vocal is to a melody with indie pop, you're listening for those lyrics and the instrumental that goes with it.
At 31 minutes, Howling At All Hours is the right length for this genre bracket of music. It's not too extensive musically, after 29 years The Cannanes are not about to go all Magic Band and experiment with jazz or post-rock. They keep it simple and even negotiate a few single-esque material here and there. "Fawn Summer" is about as chart worthy as The Cannanes will get. It has sweet progressions, adorable backing vocals, and a noteworthy lead guitar riff. Its predecessor is a punk song at heart. The instrumental could rival any Mission of Burma release, and when sung by Gibson "Melting Moments" instantly blooms in to something less sinister than punk. It connects to "Fawn Summer" without any distinction, they're in complete control.
What we have here is a band fully in their element. 100% creative freedom with the song writing that made Nick Cave one of the most celebrated Australians in music history. "Absence" features harmonic background vocals and brass instrumentation, taking the band one step further in their quest for something more than rock. It has a simple refrain, sung by Gibson: "Walking round the driveway at the front of the house." The Cannanes have never given up on their morals. They may have experimented in the past, but Howling At All Hours takes their history and throws up a modern release for fans of The Magnetic Fields instead of The Moldy Peaches. "Is It Because I'm Bleak?" has a forceful synthesizer running through the core, with spacious drum beats controlling the rest of the instrumentation. O'Neil sings a truly bleak vocal, making this songs inclusion worthwhile.
Howling At All Hours ensures continued success for The Cannanes. Having been part of the K Records collective in the 80s only emphasises their dominant C86 influence. Bands like Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, and Tender Trap are proud to call The Cannanes their older and more experienced big brother. Yo La Tengo and co may be more famous and have the backing of huge independent labels, but The Cannanes have arguably released as good, and some might say better music over the years. Howling At All Hours certainly trumps Yo La Tengo's Fade which was released earlier in the year. The Cannanes have excelled for years in releasing quality albums, but none as contagious and memorable as Howling At All Hours.