The Cannanes

A Love Affair with Nature

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All it takes is a listen to "I Woke Up," Love Affair's opening track, to make any fans who wistfully recall the Young Marble Giants, the Go-Betweens, or Marine Girls realize that there are musicians out there who can follow in such spare guitar pop footsteps with style, skill, and beauty. Gibson's bass and sweet but not cloying vocals, Nichols' rhythm, and O'Neil's guitars create a minimal piece of magic, and from there Love Affair surges from strength to strength. With the help of a couple of guest backing vocalists on a song or two and violin from Susan Grigg on two cuts -- her work on "Take Me to the Hotel Johanna" is just right -- the Cannanes created a true wonder of an album. One reason the band works is its members' careful blend of emotion and cynicism; Nichols is a bit of legendary character when it comes to wit in particular, while the liner notes have deceptively flat descriptions of the songs. Thus, the description of "Nuisance" is "a breathless enthusiastic gush for my uninspired friends." O'Neil's own vocals are a mix of the restrained and suddenly boisterous, a fine counterpoint to Gibson's work, while his guitar and organ work says quite a lot with the gentlest of strums. When he chooses to amp up, as on "Paper Bag," it's with an ear for melancholy instead of macho crunch. As for Nichols, whether he's playing drums or working with a drum machine, whatever he comes up with suits the low-key flow. Charming and listenable as the original album is, though, the version that has to be found is the reissue some years later on Ajax, adding no less than 13 bonus tracks, ranging from the goofy to the inspired, many featuring guest performers from violinists to French horn players. Exhaustive and often hilarious liner notes from Nichols and Gibson go over the origins of the tracks, including the final cuts done with Randall Lee before he went off to form Ashtray Boy. Any fans of Lee's will find much to enjoy here.

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