Tag: 1980

Cameo :: Matthew Samways on Ceramic Hello – The Absence of a Canary

Ceramic Hello - The Absence of a Canary

My initial instinct to spotlight of one of Canada’s most outstanding and unique records was an epic approach, analyzing its prominent contributions to music – cultural and suburban influence, inspirations, aspirations, tools used. I even went to the extent of contacting Brett Wickens – the main songwriter on this truly wonderful masterpiece – to conduct a small interview. Yet as I collected this information, I realized it would prove to be a total contradiction of what makes the album so beautiful: its minimalism.

The Absence of a Canary was originally issued in 1980 by the now defunct Mannequin Records (not to be confused with the great contemporary Italian/German Wave label Mannequin) out of Burlington by-way-of Toronto, Ontario. It has since has seen two comprehensive reissues. The first was a deluxe box set issued by the soon to be legendary boutique label Vinyl on Demand with elaborate, alternate artwork and bonus material. The most recent edition comes from Canadian imprint Suction, whose owner is also the brain behind Solvent and producer of the upcoming modular synth documentary, I Dream Of Wires.

This LP was released in a time where mail order via catalogue was one’s only option. You couldn’t go to Ceramic Hello’s shows, because they never played live. You could find these two young men hiding in their bedrooms at their parents’ houses exchanging Kraftwerk LPs, listening to Gary Numan singles on the radio, and of course paying their respects to Brain Eno, whose influence is likely the most prominent, particularly 1974’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). Wickens later went on to do graphic design for the inimitable Factory Records, notably working on Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark’s third album Architecture & Morality.

With respect to the up and coming artists chasing a vision based on what was accomplished by groups like Ceramic Hello, I do believe the majority are simply overlooking what makes this music unique – organic creation, naivety, lack of resources – a true dystopia. It’s not complicated. Bedrooms were the breeding grounds for the beginning of this era, using affordable pieces of equipment that were available at the time – notably the Korg MS-20, Roland CR-78, Polymoog and Minitmoog. In fact, the whole record was recorded on a borrowed Teac 8-track. Not to sermonize my beliefs, but in my opinion this time was Ground Zero for what is now considered a revived sound. There were no impulses for Brett Wickens and Roger Humphrey to create a groundbreaking sound that would escalate the charts, they were only doing what was natural to them. For that, we will always be grateful for Ceramic Hello’s sole LP, which will be celebrated for years to come.

Matthew Samways is the owner and primary operator of Minimal Electronic/Wave imprint Electric Voice Records. He is also the assistant director of Halifax fringe music and arts festival OBEY Convention as well as developing his solo musical endeavour under the moniker Amour Noir.

Ma première idée pour rendre hommage à l’un des plus remarquables et uniques disques canadiens était d’adopter une approche exhaustive à l’extrême et d’analyser ses contributions majeures à la musique – son influence culturelle et banlieusarde, ses inspirations, ses aspirations, les moyens utilisés. Je suis même allé jusqu’à contacter Brett Wickens, le compositeur principal de cet incroyable chef-d’œuvre, pour une petite entrevue. Cependant, alors que je recueillais toute cette information, je me suis rendu compte que ma démarche était en parfaite contradiction avec ce qui faisait la beauté de cet album : le minimalisme.

The Absence of a Canary a été à l’origine lancé en 1980 par la défunte Mannequin Records (à ne pas confondre avec l’étiquette germano-italienne de renom Mannequin) basée à Burlington par l’entremise de Toronto. L’album a depuis fait l’objet de deux rééditions augmentées. Un premier coffret de luxe distribué par le légendaire label à en devenir Vinyl on Demand comprenait une nouvelle pochette et des bonus. On doit la plus récente édition à l’étiquette canadienne Suction, dont le propriétaire est aussi le cerveau derrière Solvent et le producteur du documentaire à paraître I Dream Of Wires sur le synthé modulaire.

Ce LP est paru à une époque où la seule option pour se le procurer était de le commander par catalogue. On ne pouvait pas non plus assister aux concerts du groupe parce qu’il n’en donnait tout simplement pas. Les deux jeunes hommes pouvaient être trouvés dans leur chambre chez leurs parents s’échangeant des albums de Kraftwerk, écoutant du Gary Numan à la radio et bien sûr louangeant Brain Eno, dont l’influence est probablement la plus marquante, en particulier son album de 1974 Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). Plus tard, Wickens travaillerait comme designer graphique pour l’inimitable Factory Records, notamment sur le troisième album de Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark Architecture & Morality.

Avec tout le respect que je dois aux artistes de la relève en quête d’une vision s’inspirant de ce que des groupes comme Ceramic Hello ont accompli, je crois que la plupart se méprennent sur ce qui rend cette musique unique : la création organique, l’innocence, les moyens limités – une véritable dystopie. Ce n’est pas compliqué. Les chambres à coucher ont été les terreaux fertiles des débuts de cette ère où on utilisait de l’équipement bon marché disponible à l’époque – notamment le Korg MS-20, le Roland CR-78, le Polymoog et le Minitmoog. D’ailleurs, l’album a été enregistré au complet grâce à un enregistreur à huit pistes Teac emprunté. Je ne voudrais pas porter atteinte à mes convictions, mais à mon avis cette époque était la préhistoire de ce qu’on qualifie aujourd’hui de son remis au goût du jour. Brett Wickens et Roger Humphrey ne cherchaient pas à créer de la musique innovatrice qui gravirait les sommets des palmarès, ils ne faisaient que ce qui leur paraissait naturel. C’est pour cela qu’on aimera toujours l’unique album de Ceramic Hello, lequel sera encore encensé pour bien des années à venir.

Matthew Samways est propriétaire et homme à tout faire de l’étiquette électro minimal Electric Voice Records. Directeur adjoint du festival de musique et d’arts parallèles OBEY Convention, il s’aventure également en des territoires musicaux inexplorés sous le pseudonyme d’Amour Noir.

Ceramic Hello – Climactic Nouveaux

Ceramic Hello – Footsteps in the Fog

New Canadiana :: The Hot Nasties – The Invasion of the Tribbles EP

Hot Nasties - 1980 - Invasion of the Tribbles EP
Before Warren Kinsella peacocked into a full-blown Liberal svengali he was creating hot messes at the Calgarian Hotel — one of the nation’s formative punk dives — with the Hot Nasties. Like a divergent australopithecine strain, The Invasion shares many tendencies with its descendants, while dabbling in different musical genera entirely: On its A-side, it establishes its ’77-proof DNA with “I am a Confused Teenager” before deteriorating into guttural discord and pre-hardcoric throat-shredding in “Invasion of the Tribbles.” B-sider “The Secret of Immortality” is yet another permutation, pairing open-air drive-thru pop with pensive ruminations on morality, life, death and Catholic guilt — foreshadowing, perhaps, Kinsella’s future sociopolitical explorations. True Grit, indeed.

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The Hot Nasties – The Secret of Immortality

Departures :: The Modern Minds – Theresa’s World b/w Bungalow Rock, It’s Gone

In his infinite pursuit of happiness, Moe Berg tore Edmonton asunder with his madly obscure pop bonanza, The Modern Minds. Their lone, over-sized 7″ comes packaged in a sandwich bag and screams ultimate grippage with its chic 80s print and references to the Pointed Sticks and Rock ‘n’ Roll Bitches plastered on the back. Inside the 7″ is teeming with Berg’s teen angst, kiltered hooks, and bewildering guitar shreddery, making it an instant hit factory for anyone fortunate enough to stumble into a copy. Berg’s brilliance resides in cementing every lyric and riff deep within your pop consciousness while transfiguring his strangely warm and intimate personality into every frenetic strum. He remains a personal favorite and infinite source of ridiculous pop inspiration. While Weird Canada fetishes the physical object, the true majesty of The Modern Minds is best experienced through the Japanese reissue of in-studio tracks performed (presumably) at CKUA, or you can venture through these recently-surfaced live recordings featuring covers of The Modernettes and a song about Edmonton stabbings! BERGMONTON!

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The Modern Minds – Theresa’s World

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The Modern Minds – It’s Gone