Alabaster Tongue presents an extremely rare appearance by Cardinal, the acclaimed orchestral psych-pop ensemble featuring Aussie expat Richard Davies (of The Moles) and Oregonian Eric Matthews. For this short East Coast jaunt, Davies will be joined by a large supporting cast, and even though Matthews will not be present, his arrangements will via modern technology. The band is fresh off a heralded SXSW performance and a NYC show, and won't likely be available to tour in the future, so catch this while you can. Fans of The Left Banke, Beatles, Kinks, Love, The Zombies, The Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, Divine Comedy, Nick Drake, Scott Walker and Tindersticks should not sleep on this.
Doors at 8pm, show at 8:30pm
Cardinal (Fire Records, featuring acclaimed singer-songwriter Richard Davies of The Moles)
Kuschty Rye Ergot (DC psych, mem. of Kohoutek)
Mike Bruno & The Black Magic Family Band (Philly folk-psych ensemble)
Was there chamber pop after the Beatles and Bee Gees and before Belle & Sebastian? The missing link is Cardinal's self-titled debut. The album's release in 1994, which seemed to come out of nowhere, with its layered textures and delightful melodies, swam against the tidal wave of grunge. It ushered in an era of renewed appreciation for the orchestrated pop music of the 1960s, and at the same time inspired and influenced a host of modern artists, who followed in Cardinal's footsteps, endeavoring to duplicate its majesty and sound so classic.
Founded by Richard Davies, Australian by birth, Welsh by parentage, and American by choice, along with Oregonian Eric Matthews, Cardinal was formed when the unlikely duo met in Boston, Massachusetts. Davies most notably had been in the band the Moles, which led him from his native Sydney, to London, and then to New England, while Matthews was born in Southern California, studying music at a conservatory in San Francisco before moving to the north east.
What was erstwhile professional student Davies up to? Finding his own voice by throwing himself into different situations and different places. Matthews had spent his childhood immersed in music, learning trumpet and classical composition. He converted to independent music because he "heard Richard's ideas and saw something special in them that I wanted to be part of."
But, Cardinal was, and continues to be, a band with several identities. Whereas orch-pop set its co-ordinates for the past, and settled there, Cardinal simply imagined the music they wanted to listen to in the here and now. More importantly, songs like "Last Poems" and "Silver Machines" from Cardinal's debut sounded like futures untapped. The album met with deafening acclaim from the press, while at the same time the list of artists, both from that era and continuing to this day, who cite its brilliance, and laud Davies & Matthews as a major touchstone in their musical education, is both long and diverse - a list that includes The Flaming Lips, the Polyphonic Spree, Autolux, Vetiver, and many, many more. But as influential and significant as Cardinal seemed, their musical output totaled that lone, brilliant self-titled record, as Matthews moved home to the West Coast while Davies remained out East.
The two moved on to their respective solo careers. Richard Davies took his distinctive and gifted songwriting talents to Flydaddy, V2 Records and beyond. He made more albums that met with praise from the media worldwide, he shared the stage with the Flaming Lips, he made a record with fellow eccentric Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices (Cosmos), and he became a trial attorney, though never totally turning his back on music. Meanwhile Eric Matthews flew further in the face of grunge, becoming the enfant-terrible amongst a roster of guitar-heavy labelmates, as he signed to Sub Pop Records, releasing two highly acclaimed albums for the northwest label, and subsequently continued to create a further series of lush-orchestrated releases in the following decade, while at the same time taking his talents as a multi-instrumentalist to work as a sideman on various other records.
Miraculously though, what may have seemed, for many years, to be the end of the story, has not ended up as the closing chapter for Cardinal. A reconnection between the two musicians. An on-again/off-again chronicle of creating new music. A bi-coastal recording process. And finally completed in 2011, what was thought to be a pipe dream, and an object that is sure to elicit delight from both musicians and music fans alike, a new album. Twelve new songs. Hymns.
Their new album, and first in 18 years, Hymns, combines self-assured and pious pop gems (Northern Soul) with immense-canvas outback masterworks (Kal), and improbably, hot-blooded essays on the first law case Davies ever read (Carbolic Smoke Ball).
Like the first album a lifetime ago, Hymns is a set of diamonds. Great songs - actually, plain, old-fashioned good songs, filtered through Davies' John Donne/Sir John Mortimer law/art prism, and Matthews' trained arranger's ear.
The two are perfectly matched. It is clear that, once again, they spur each other on to greater heights. Guitars, vocals, horns and strings, bass, along with the weird, are used with invention, purpose, and confidence.
When Cardinal was released in 1994 they were arguably the best band in the world. In 2012, with Hymns, they are well-positioned for a repeat performance.
AMG's review of the 1994 self-titled debut:
The sole album from the Richard Davies/Eric Matthews pairing achieved something close to legend status in a few short years, at least among those taken by the fusion of guitar pop with orchestrations. Although the combination isn’t that groundbreaking to begin with — everyone from the Left Banke to Burt Bacharach had already tried something similar 30 years previous, for a start — Cardinal is still definitely enjoyable while not, in fact, being greater than the sum of its parts. While Matthews is a brilliant arranger, playing everything from harpsichord to trumpet and marimba, it’s Davies’ songs that carry the day, which a cursory review of Matthews’ solo work versus Davies’ makes clear. Regardless, together the two did achieve unexpectedly sharp heights. The recruited backing band, including, of all people, drummer/co-producer Thee Slayer Hippy from Portland punk legends Poison Idea, keeps everything moving well enough, while the two chief figures happily eschew the prevailing grunge fallout of 1994 for something else entirely. Davies’ quietly impassioned, slightly dry singing avoids both whispery vagueness and trying to sweat too much, perfectly matched by Matthews’ fun, killer interpretations. Matthews gets moments of slightly lugubrious and breathy lead singing at points, most notably on his own solo composition “Dream Figure,” while the duet with Davies on “You’re Lost Me There” is enjoyably low-key and mysterious. While Davies’ lyrics are generally clever enough, they’re also easy to avoid concentrating on in favor of the experience as a whole. Full-on cult appeal arrives in the form of “Singing to the Sunshine,” a cut from the self-titled album by the late-’60s group Mortimer. Other strong numbers include the clever time signature shifts throughout “Tough Guy Tactics” and the closing drama of “Silver Machines.”
Kuschty Rye Ergot
Kuschty Rye Ergot is the new project from long-time DC area multi-instrumentalist/vocalist John Stanton. A collective as opposed to a fixed lineup, performances range from drifty slowburn Popol Vuh-ish watercolour solo guitar/synth constructs to full blown ensemble sonic exhaust blasts, along with occasional stripped down acoustic folk musings. Elements of many of Stanton's wide-ranging previous efforts (Redeemers, Cash Slave Clique, Nik Turner/Harvey Bainbridge of Hawkwind, Spaceseed, Promise Breakers, Cotton & Billawtm) are in evidence, refracted via a prism of spatial folk, electronics, and whatever else the lineup du jour shakes loose from their collective tree. A universe where Ronnie Lane and COB channel Dome and Peter Hammill? You decide. In addition, John sometimes performs as a member of DC improv-psych band Kouhotek, playing guitar, synth, electric piano, and other instruments.
Volcanic Tongue on the KRE 3" on Kendra Steiner Editions:
Hand-numbered edition (of 75 copies) CD-R from psychedelic pioneer, out guitarist and exemplary head John Stanton aka Kuschty Rye Ergot. This is a pretty incredible recording, a multi-layered trip through American Primitive guitar, howling peyote ritual, Folkways environmental sounds and the kind of DIY madmanisms of Charlie Nothing before cohering into some fantastic pulse-based psychedelic rock. KSE have released a ton of great material this far but this has gotta be my favourite from the label to date. "Kuschty Rye Ergot mainman John Stanton has been a psychedelic soldier for decades, providing the greater Washington, DC area with a much-needed pure higher-key presence. When I lived in Virginia in the 1980s, I always looked forward to visiting DC two or three times a year and catching John Stanton with bands such as Gigolo Aunt, and I had the privilege of listening to many a Psycho and Heyoka and Breeder reissue with Mr. Stanton back then. A fine technician on the guitar, he exists somewhere within that rainbow running from Robbie Basho and Sandy Bull through Djinn Aquarian through Matt Valentine, yet he's always been his own man. When KSE began issuing music cdrs last year, one of my first tasks was to find John Stanton and get him to release something with KSE. SENESCENCE is the result. A three-part seamless swirling trip recorded live in DC in 2008, SENESCENCE has the warm glow and viscous flow of the best trips, musical or otherwise. You'll be reminded of everything from Ya Ho Wa 13's PENETRATION to Tony Conrad and Faust's OUTSIDE THE DREAM SYNDICATE on this 19-minute inner journey, but it's 100% Stanton. KSE is proud to offer this unique cdr from one of the East Coast's greatest psychedelic warriors. Don't wait for some European or Japanese label to proclaim Stanton a genius and issue a multi-cd box of his rarities dating back to the early '80s. He's still at it, both with Kuschty Rye Ergot and also as a member of Kohoutek, and this must-own disc captures him at his purest." (Bill Shute)
Mike Bruno & The Black Magic Family Band
"Opium-den float rock." (The New York Post)
"Bruno delivers lullaby-esque ventures into misty graveyards." (Freddy's Backroom)
"Mike Bruno sets himself apart going down the hidden folk avenues on the indie map with his latest EP The Sad Sisters. Bruno’s voice is tormented and moving leaving you at the edge of your comfort zone. Dark and mysterious harmonies have you unsettled and calm simultaneously. Along with an acoustic guitar, a symphony of wineglasses, bells, drones, and a banjo fuel the infectious cooing. Bruno exerts raw emotion that is felt through every delicate pluck and whisper, to every coarse wail and strums. The tracks change dynamically leaving you anticipating what soothing or evocative sound will capture by surprise. The EP is hypnotic in its own sense with the unusual instrumentation. Bruno leaves you lost in your tracks in the place you know best." (treble-synthesis.blogspot.com)
"Mike’s music is so powerful because of its dynamic nature, simultaneously and seamlessly going back and forth between comfort and creepy. Take for instance his vocal styling. At one moment they are fragile and ethereal like a ceramic dove. Then switching to haunting, even a bit menacing as if sung in a whisper from the darkest corner of the attic...perhaps seeping out of a haunted gramophone. The same goes for his guitar abilities. Delicately plucked chords can soothe one minute and become the pounding hooves of the three horsemen heralding the end of times the next. It’s equal parts baroque and black metal. To make things even better, he is backed by a wonderfully strange symphony of sounds and percussion including the shallow whine of wine glasses, the hypnotic whirl of a chrome bowl whacked just so, and the mysterious vibrations and sounds of the waterphone. This lush arrangement added tremendously to the overall sound of the performance." (GREENSHOELACE.COM)
Admission is FREE ($5-$10 donation suggested)