Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fleeting thing of beauty

Cardinal

If You Believe In Christmas Trees (mp3) - Cardinal

If You Believe In Christmas Trees (demo) (mp3) - Cardinal

Cardinal was the short-lived collaboration of Australian indie rocker Richard Davies and American music conservatory dropout Eric Matthews. Introduced in Boston in 1992 by Matthews' neighbor Bob Fay (who had just started drumming for Sebadoh), the unlikely pair hit it off almost immediately and produced their self-titled album (US, UK) in 1994, falling out soon thereafter. Which may be just as well. The album draws its strength, at least in part, from the joy of serendipity, the sense of "I can't believe I found you and we're making this." As Davies puts it, "It's easy for the right people to make good music."

If we know our rock history, we also know it's an unsustainable romance. But while it lasted, it was beautiful. Davies wrote the songs and Matthews did the arrangements. Both sang, their voices coalescing in heartbreaking harmonies. And if you think Matthews played the lesser part, think again. The remastered reissue of Cardinal features 11 bonus tracks, including several demos of songs that made it to the album. Hearing the demo and album version of "If You Believe In Christmas Trees" for the first time, you'll probably prefer the demo. Listen again. Listen several times until you shake your punk rock prejudices and understand why two self-professed Bee Gees fans ultimately embraced vocal melodrama, silky strings and magisterial horns. Because it was right for the song.

Before Davies was in Cardinal, he was leader of the massively underrated Sydney band The Moles. They aren't easy to pigeonhole--which may be why The Moles don't get the recognition they deserve today. A song like the bouncy "Rebecca," for example could be a page torn from The Chills' or another one of the better New Zealand pop band's songbooks. However, immediately preceding that track on their 1992 release Untune The Sky (US, UK), is "The Crown Souls" a dark, enigmatic track that probably wouldn't be out of place on a Pink Floyd record.

The Crown Souls (mp3) - The Moles

Rebecca (mp3) - The Moles

5 Comments:

Blogger -tr0y- said...

i marvel amy--your connection to so much music really is inspiring. thank you for sharing with us.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oh no, you're being sarcastic, right?

9:53 AM  
Blogger No Frontin' said...

Isn't there some other band relation involving Cardinal and The Moles? I know I didn't DL albums by both of them simply for a relation to Sebadoh...

11:53 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Dunno. Davies and Matthews were knocking around the Boston scene at the time and could've known a lot of bands. Matthews briefly played with Fay and Lou Barlow in Beltbuckle, and Sebadoh played some Beltbuckle tunes while on tour with Pavement. That might be what you're thinking. I find that if you scratch the surface of any 90s indie rock band you'll find a Pavement connection.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

The Moles are my favorite Australian band, and in five years here I've only been able to find a single person (who happens to run a label) who's ever heard of them. 'Untune the Sky' was the only proper full-length group effort (there's also a single, a double single, and an ep); the follow-up, 'Instinct', was essentially a Davies solo project. The Flydaddy release of Untune is out of print but still relatively easy to find and relatively cheap - and definitely worth the effort to track down: it includes the 'Double Single' ep, which is brilliant. There's also something called 'On the Street: Rare & Weird' (on Wishing Tree) that's got most (but not all) of Untune and Double Single, along with some demo and live versions - worth it to get both if you're a fan. The first two solo records under Davies' name are also on Flydaddy - which being defunct sadly means that they're all out of print but again easy to find and not that expensive - and the first one, 'There's Never Been a Crowd Like This', is more like a Moles record (ie brilliant, offkilter pop); the second, 'Telegraph', is more folky and straightforward but still quite good. I'm not crazy about 'Barbarians', and subsequent material has yet to appear. 'Cardinal' came out in an expanded re-release and has some great ep tracks - a great record. A possible Moles-Cardinal connection might be that some members of the Flaming Lips toured with Davies under the name 'Cardinal' (without Matthews I think) to support 'There's Never Been'. If you can track down the Davies single 'Cantina' (Flydaddy) it's got some killer live tracks from that tour.

9:03 PM  

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