Cardinal | Hymns

Fire Records (2012)
By RYAN REED  |  May 21, 2012
3.5 3.5 Stars


After a nearly two-decade silence, chamber-pop duo Cardinal emerge from their near-mythic hibernation with the sleepy-eyed, Beatles-underwater gem "Northern Soul," which crawls out of the speakers as if to say, "Yeah, we've been gone since 1994 — but really, don't mind us!" Though multi-instrumentalists Richard Davies and Eric Matthews have kept busy since Cardinal's homonymous, mid-'90s landmark release (Davies solo, Matthews recording under his own name and arranging for other artists), their lone Cardinal classic has stewed in its own legendary juices ever since. With the densely layered Hymns, they've crafted a triumphant sequel — though they set the bar impossibly high with "Northern Soul," the kind of effervescent pop miracle that earns its shrugged-off chorus "Hallelujah!" Outfitted with harpsichord, swirling vocal harmonies, and McCartney-esque bass runs, it is headphone-absorbing perfection. Meanwhile, "Carbolic Smoke Ball" pits smoky, muted trumpets over raunchy distortion — ridiculously catchy and fascinatingly weird. After that opening one-two punch, Hymns is less essential. The chiming guitar-pop throwback "Love like Rain" may be polished, but it feels like a sketch. Even in these minor moments, though, the beauty is staggering — every nook and cranny overflowing with otherworldly melody. "It's time for wine and nursery rhymes/Burn incense and common sense," they sing on closer "Radio Birdman." Put that on a T-shirt.
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  Topics: CD Reviews , Music, 1994, brief,  More more >
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