The Absence of a Canary
Mannequin - 1981
Those who scratch their heads at how such left-field electronica like John Paul Young's The Life of Ernie Scub or The Absence of a Canary by Ceramic Hello could have come out of a city like Toronto forget just how prevalent synth music was back then. Ultravox's Vienna and John Foxx's Metamatic, for instance, both cracked CFNY-FM's top 25 in 1980, while the cyborg Gary Numan played to 5000 people at the cavernous Maple Leaf Gardens that October. The duo of Brett Wickens and Roger Humphreys also came together that year out in the pastoral bliss of suburban Burlington. Wickens had only recently left the Spoons, in fact just after the release of their fiendishly rare 'After the Institution' seven-inch, but with Humphreys' more classical tendencies, the pair set about making icy synth tunes allegedly in the mold of Daniel Miller's novel Mute label.
The clinical sounds on The Absence of a Canary were first issued in 1981 on the Burlington-based Mannequin label in a tiny press run of just 1000, a miniscule quantity for LPs back then. Tracks like the jerky 'Dark Rain' or the cleverly titled 'Conversation between Units' were hardly what you would call dancefloor-ready, so it should surprise no one that The Absence... had trouble shifting even that paltry number of units. These days the record is coveted by electro fetishists the world over, quite possibly for tunes like the eerie 'Gestures' and its clever cache of frosty synths and forlorn vocals. Still, for my money, San Francisco's Units did this cold wave stuff much better. Speaking of cash, though, mint copies of The Absence of a Canary now change hands for upwards of 300 bucks a pop, so clearly the record has its fans.
(For the curious, Toronto's Suction Records reissued The Absence of a Canary on both vinyl and CD in 2012.)
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