"With all due respect to the rest of Melbourne Cans, singer/guitarist Ian Wallace is the most consistent magnet for our attention, between his Edwyn Collins-esque croon and distinctly seedy, misanthropic lyrics. While the band do a swell job of feeding into his overripe yet deadpan imagery (“I’ve been raising rattlesnakes to set free in my room”) with a kind of haunted-house version of noisy jangle-pop, Wallace is very much the dark heart of this quartet.
Wallace was last seen playing in Pageants, whose 2012 album Dark Before Blonde Dawn also managed to exploit the subversive possibilities of garage-hewn pop. But here Wallace is the frontman, and he holds court with such eerie charisma that we hang on his every word. And those words come so thick and portentous that you almost want to browse your local bookstore shelves for a novelisation of the album, where tales of drowned rats and fallen angels might blossom (or, more accurately, further decay) outside the necessarily restrictive context of a five-minute song.
It’s all laid out for us on the opening tune, ‘Wolves of the Diner Mile’. Musically it’s a groggy daydream turned nightmare, swamped with organ and Jesus & Mary Chain honey. Wallace sings about how a neighbour’s “gonna strike up a conversation” as if it’s the most ominous thing in the world, and the song’s initial sweetness falters and turns into a stoned tangle of bad vibes crowned with prickly distortion. It’s a thesis for the whole band and album, a horror show of gossip rags and tasting plates that’s stuffed full of sordid social commentary. Like a more overt version of Ray Davies’ acidic subtext in certain Kinks songs, it’s a nasty yet naggingly funny and charming view of the world: “On the surface things have purpose, but when you look close/All the vapid entertainment ain’t enough to engross.”
From there it’s an album of pop motifs drawn out and disfigured, starting off with some dollop of hope but quickly consumed by dark clouds. Even ‘Prom Night’, with keyboardist Nina Renee (also of Creeks) singing lead, is a parade of hip flasks and punchbowls that sneaks in lines like “We are the only ones left afloat.” On the rest of the songs, with Wallace at the mic, it’s sometimes hard to make out what he’s saying: the vocals are dampened enough on the surf-wriggled ‘Thumb a Ride’ that we can only catch stray mentions of flesh and virgins. But the mood is unmistakable. Even when slipping into reverbed slow-dance mode on ‘Fallen Angels’, the promise of talking all night is conveyed as lasting “until the blue disintegrates your night.” You can imagine Wallace sprawled out in a ruined tux, serenading through the fog of a hangover.
Alternately simmering and loping to the rhythm section of bassist Will McFarlane (Pets With Pets, Ladydreams) and drummer Ash Buscombe (Witch Hats, Pets With Pets), these songs are familiar in sound but not enough so to spoil their appeal. Recorded and mixed with moody saturation by Morgan McWaters, they’re all about tarnished prettiness and burring, addled jamming. The latter impulse gets a chance to shine on the nearly eight-minute ‘Hot in the Head’, which fleetingly evokes The Modern Lovers’ ‘Roadrunner’ and packs quite the fried guitar solo.
At the risk of overemphasising Wallace’s role – and it’s surely much too late now – it’s possible that without him Melbourne Cans would simply be just another sturdy, low-profile local band, albeit prone to brooding. But with Wallace spilling over with venom, including his caustic titular advice to philanderers on ‘Don’t Tell Her’, there’s much more here to sink our teeth into. And an otherwise very good debut rambles and lurches its way dangerously close to greatness." Doug Wallen, Mess+Noise
"The story is that Melbourne Bitter is the same beer as VB, but taken from the bottom of the keg. That might explain the subtle difference in taste between the two domestic beers, but it doesn’t explain why Melbourne tends to taste better when presented in an aluminium can, nor the surely erroneous inference that VB is the cream of the CUB brewing stable.
And it doesn’t explain just why Melbourne Cans’ debut album, Moonlight Malaise, is so compelling. Take the dark and mysterious Wolves of the Diner Mile: bleak and disconcerting, psychedelic and explorative, it’s a journey that drags you in, plays with your fragile senses and leaves you richer for the experience. But then there’s Drowned Rats, the perfect pop anthem for a summer’s day on the banks of Merri Creek with a slab of beer and a packet of salt and vinegar chips.
Then you can ponder Boys, and wonder if it’s celebrating, lamenting or purging the infantile emotional state of the male of the species; Prom Night starts where Television left off almost 40 years ago, and saunters elegantly to the edge of a David Lynch movie.
Thumb a Ride isn’t all that it seems, and a lot more; are we heading to the shadowy side of the Go-Betweens’ legacy? And is Fallen Angel back to that Lynchian suburban dystopia where evil lies just beneath the facade of happiness?
Battlesnakes is The Triffids incarnate; Final Flight is wondrous, slightly frenzied and memorable in the way that any late night at a festering local pub should be. Hot in the Head prises open a door of a Coburg sharehouse and finds the ghost of Morricone; and is Don’t Tell Her a love song or a warning? And does it even matter when you’re spellbound by its tender delivery?
Melbourne Cans are so far from dregs it’s not funny. In fact, if Moonlight Malaise is anything to go by, these guys will be rising to the surface quicker than the froth from a can of bitter shot-gunned in a moment of Saturday night adolescent excitement. " Patrick Emery, Beat
"There is something poetic about the way Melbourne Cans construct their music. It’s probably more the nostalgic quality of their sonic tapestry – the way I'm made to think of lazy afternoons, the birth of my love of The Wedding Present, the warmth of the guitar tones and keys on songs like ‘Boys’… There is a deliberate sense of wistful recognition on debut LP Moonlight Malaise (out through Lost and Lonesome) though, especially the shift in vocal duties from the dulcet croon of Ian Wallace (ex-Pageants – whatever happened to this excellent band??? - and the Edwyn Collins affectations are not missed here!) and Nina Renee. It’s like a sleepier, Merseyside-via-Northcote version of The Cannanes – with a hard crush on the Big O. With all the doo-wop pretensions that are thrown about in this day and age, you cannot get more to-the-bone than ‘Fallen Angels’ – I could feel the tears of my imagined prom date soak through my shoulder-padded suit jacket at my graduation in 1965. The fact that such ruminations come to bear, despite the fact I was born some sixteen years later, belies the power that Melbourne Cans hold in their hands. Plus the urgency that penultimate (and lengthy) track ‘Hot In The Head’ holds is the kind of incessant brooding guitar-solo-heavy slowburner that fires up the cockles in this “old” man’s heart. Melbourne Cans are a square peg/round hole proposition in this day and age – but when geniuses like Lehmann B Smith make a living out of crafting perfect melodies that happily sit far outside the common scene denominators, why shouldn’t these guys too? " Sonic Masala