Cardinal, Cardinal

Andrew Mueller

By Andrew Mueller

on 04.28.14 in Reviews

Cardinal’s self-titled debut, originally released in 1994, has acquired the status of minor myth over the succeeding decades. This is partly due to the eccentricity of its gestation. Cardinal was a duo: Australian indie musician Richard Davies of deadpan psychedelic popsters the Moles (whose Flashbacks & Dream Sequences compilation is also released by Fire this year), and American arranger Eric Matthews (later of Seinking Ships and a consistently weird and interesting solo career). They split almost as soon as Cardinal was completed: 18 years elapsed before they released a follow-up, 2012′s Hymns. Cardinal also benefited, then and since, from its defiance of the times: Released in America into the teeth of the grunge gale, it was an album of gentle, ornate pop which had far more to do with Brian Wilson or the Bee Gees than it did with Kurt Cobain or Soundgarden.

The closest the grunge era got to producing its own lo-fi ‘Sergeant Pepper’ or ‘Pet Sounds’

Oddly, it was the American guitar acts of the times who became Cardinal’s most ardent champions: Davies later toured with the Flaming Lips as his backing group. Cardinal did possess a slightly rocking edge, discernible in the chugging guitars underpinning “Big Mink” and “Dream Figure” but they were melodicists first and foremost, glad of any excuse to douse their tunes in sumptuous strings and buoyant brass. “If You Believe In Christmas Trees” and “You’ve Lost Me There” are among many highlights of the closest the grunge era got to producing its own lo-fi Sergeant Pepper or Pet Sounds.