Cardinal – Cardinal – CD
Twenty years after its initial release, the orchestral pop classic that is the self-titled debut from Cardinal is being reissued by Fire Records. Returned to it’s original tracklisting on LP, the record is a rush of exquisite songwriting and brilliant arrangements that was way ahead of its time, courtesy of the duo of Richard Davies and Eric Matthews. Also included is a CD of demos and bonus tracks as well as new liner notes featuring an entertaining oral history of the making of the record with Davies, Matthews and Producer Tony Lash (Heatmiser, Elliott Smith.)
Recorded during the height of grunge, and financed by Sub Pop’s good fortune, the record’s sweet melodies and surging orchestration were an anomaly that paved the way for bands like the Flaming Lips to follow. Mixing Davies’ love of the Bee Gees and The Left Banke with his punk roots as well as Matthews’ intense attention to detail and nuanced mini symphonies, they created a record that was at once out of time as well as forever timeless.
They were brought together by Sebadoh drummer Bob Fay after Davies found himself in love and in Boston, following an exodus from Australia with his band The Moles and their eventual implosion in London. Sensing the possibilities available by putting Matthews and Davies together, the trio immediately began working on Davies’ clutch of songs that he had been stockpiling, aided by the use of Bob Weston’s (Shellac, Mission of Burma) practice space and its 4-track recording equipment.
After pushing for a disasterous live show and an equally bad recording session, Davies found the band at an impasse. Knowing that the chemistry and songs were too good to just remain a casual pursuit, forces seemed to conspire against them further when Matthews decided to move back to Oregon and Fay’s Sebadoh activities became more pressing. Luckily, the Toy Bell EP they had put together was generating some label interest, and a pair of Sub Pop staffers with a new imprint of their own (and a long held love of The Moles) managed to win over Davies in a decidedly awkward meeting in his Boston apartment.
With a limited budget and a desperate need for a sympathetic recording environment away from the bombast of the day, Davies and Matthews settled on working with Tony Lash in Portland. This meant Fay would not be able to be involved, and his replacement was quite a surprise, as Poison Idea’s Steve ‘Thee Slayer Hippy’ Hanford found his way behind the drum kit and delivered a delicate touch. It soon became apparent that this may be the beginning and end of Cardinal all at once, and the duo poured everything into the recording session. Matthews came prepared and pushed the songs into ornate and adventurous directions, framing Davies’ songs in a brilliant light and encouraging incredible performances from everyone involved.
The result was a collection of perfect songs tightly wrapped for appreciation at a later date. In looking back to a time when pop was allowed to be sweet and string-laden, they had become an instant island in a sea of loud guitars and flannel shirts. Fawning reviews would serve as a springboard for solo careers for both, but Cardinal quickly became a hidden treasure amongst savvy listeners, and Davies and Matthews would not work together again for 18 more years.