After an 18-year absence, Cardinal has finally returned with Hymns (Fire), its sophomore album. To rabid fans of the bi-coastal duo who’d all but given up hope of ever hearing a sequel to their masterful self-titled 1994 debut, that freshman year must have seemed interminable. When its first longplayer appeared on an indie-rock scene buzzing with grunge and punk, it was such a breath of fresh air, some people became giddy from lack of oxygen. To those without a sense of history, it was as though Richard Davies and Eric Matthews had discovered something that had never been done before. Harpsichords and baroque trumpets on a pop album? Preposterous! We love it. No one knows better than Davies and Matthews, themselves, both men with a sense of perspective, that you only have to dig out your copy of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album to hear “Penny Lane,” awash in baroque trumpet. Or listen to the two LPs by the Left Banke, a mid-’60s combo that hit it big with “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina,” for a hit of string quartets and harpsichords. Not to say that Matthews and Davies didn’t create something perfectly wonderful, both then and now. The duo will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new Q&A with them.
Davies: To youngsters this will hardly appear to be a left-field or futuristic choice. However, there are plenty of reasons why it makes sense to include him, and them, on my list of guest-editor choices.
When I was a frustrated and clueless college student in Sydney, Australia, in the early ’80s, the only way to be in a band or get a live show was to play covers. Sydney was infested with tribute bands: the Strolling Bones, Clearance Creedwater Survival, etc. I sure liked the original versions of those bands. Indeed, I auditioned in winklepickers (pointy-toed blue elastic sided boots) for the Keith Richards role in a cover band. I even had a set of ’80’s K. Richards footwear (floppy pixie boots). The cover bands didn’t inspire hope for new music though.
I was introduced to Flying Nun by a guy called Dave Absolom in about ’86. Now everything began to make sense. Now you could pick up and make your own music the way you wanted. Now the giant-haired stonewashed denim bullies could go fuck themselves. Now creative life begins.
About ‘94 I was driving from Norman, Ok., to Oklahoma City. Steve Drozd and Ronald Jones from the Flaming Lips were in the car. The journey out there was a strange story in itself. I remember getting off the train in Wichita, Kan., taking a three-hour cab ride through wheat-fields to get to Oklahoma, imaginary Glenn Campbell and Jimmy Webb jangling in my ears the whole way.
Drozd was talking about a songwriter guy from Ohio who wrote actual good songs. Steve obviously liked and respected this person. A good song used to be kind of necessary to make a popular record but this tidy little fact had been chronically ignored for a long time, and of course good songwriting has been pretty much profoundly ignored ever since, but thats fine.
From the way Steve was talking I knew this bloke Robert Pollard was a kindred spirit. Even “alternative” music is filled with people who are just petrified to be themselves. Their hair, their clothes, their manner, their tastes, are dictated by some ethic that no-one can truly pin down: the kind of stuff that makes A&R people consult the zodiac, etc. All they know is that there is this “thing” which is the latest “thing,” which is “out there” and some people are “in it” and some people are “not in it.” Pure unadulterated bollocks.
Anyhow, when I heard the music it confirmed Steve’s opinion. Pollard was the opposite. Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand (and “Girls Of Wild Strawberries” and “U.S. Mustard Company” and “Dancing Girls And Dancing Men”) were filled with fragile style magpie bullseye moments, or shamelessly to the point hard hits.
Around 2006 Mr Pollard and I began to correspond. I met him at Irving Plaza in New York around then. I met Michael Imperioli backstage at the show, sang “Maggie May” with them at 3:30 a.m. in the downstairs bar. I thought, “This is it, this is how it happens, I’m going to be a big shot, I’m going to be a rock ‘n’ roll Garrison Keillor.” Of course I wasn’t. I woke up with a vicious hangover and had to find my way back to Cape Cod in one piece.
But through the meetings and the correspondence, what was suggested by the music rang true. Pollard was a relentlessly unpretentious man with a mountain of talent. He had spent pointless childhood classroom hours of wasted time, unbefitting the anglo-saxon work ethic his parents instilled, thinking up band names and song titles. I had done the same to a less prolific degree.
His daydreams were made all the more valuable because he proved to be a guileless man in the best sense, kind of like Sting if he were not an asshole.
That I had the chance to complete Cosmos’ Jar Of Jam Ton Of Bricks with this person was a privilege. Along with Todd Tobias, who contributed his talent and dedication to that project, my faith was restored and my strength added. This was the American Flying Nun.
Video after the jump.