More often than not, the fate of genius is not to be remembered, but repeated instead. Chuck Berry’s moderate success funneled into huge triumphs by The Beatles and The Beach Boys. While Fugazi may always hold a place in the throbbing hearts of true rock junkies, their influence mostly lives on in the aggressive rhythms of modern alt-rock. Likewise, Cardinal’s 1994 self-titled debut sparked a new vibe and culture with its orchestral pop, only for the band to remain dormant thereafter for nearly two decades. However, after years of refining their own musical vision and execution, Richard Davies and Eric Mathews return with Hymns. And it’s worth the wait.
The duo did not invent chamber-pop (that credit mostly goes to the well-known 60s pop icons mentioned above), but they can definitely be credited with reviving the genre. The sounds of their eponymous effort eventually encouraged the rise of such artists as Belle & Sebastian and The Polyphonic Spree. But the great thing about Hymns is that Cardinal does not attempt to rebirth the same sound from their classic debut. Instead, the multi-instrumentalists continue the tradition of their beloved genre.
Sometimes steady and often soft with a slight edge, Hymns brings with it a variety of moving compositions, but never once lays dull on the ear. Layers upon layer of sound carry each tune. Whether it be the humble ballad “Her,” persistent anthems like “Radio Birdman” and “Northern Soul” or the floating soundscape “Surviving Paris,” each track is laced with psychedelic sounds, but in the most soothing interpretation of the word.
In many ways, the Cardinal aesthetic lies in how the duo connects chamber-pop of the ’60s to its modern equivalent. The arrangements themselves largely pay tribute the former (with a slightly harder edge), but the lyrical themes are more modern and eclectic. Hymns is a masterpiece of sorts, but one I believe could easily be overlooked for a couple of years. Like Cardinal’s debut, it’s only true crime is how subtle its genius is.
Bee Gees – Odessa
Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
Stream: Cardinal – “Her”