My favourite albums of the 90s
10. "Cardinal" by Cardinal (1994)
Before the New Acoustic Movement there was Cardinal - a one-off collaboration between Australian songwriter Richard Davies and American classically-trained trumpeter Eric Matthews. Think acoustic guitar, whispered vocals and tight harmonies. Summery pop, but under a weak, pale sun. It's like lazing on a sunny afternoon in the wintertime.
If that was all there was to "Cardinal", it would be a lovely - if unremarkable - album. But that would be without reckoning on the complex and - frankly jarring - baroque trumpet and harpsichord arrangements. The effect is simultaneously soothing and unnerving, like a faulty radio which keeps switching abruptly between Capital Gold and Classic FM.
Take opening track "If You Believe In Christmas Trees" - a lovely, gentle pop song, all whispered confessions. The first slightly odd thing you notice is his pronunciation of the word 'frighten': "I don't know what I've done, to frighken everyone". And then suddenly, out of nowhere, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bah - a fucking glorious trumpet voluntary. Cardinal's nearest antecedent in terms of the mix of psychedelic pop with unusual orchestral arrangements was probably Love's "Forever Changes", but on the Cardinal album, the arrangements are more unexpected, more jarring, and more accomplished. All Music Guide classifies it as chamber pop.
Davies' lyrics range from the enigmatic "If you knew where I'd just been, you'd notify my next of kin", to the totally bizarre "Gee, Kennedy got kicked in the ass a couple of times for his impersonation of a crow". There are many references to seasons, especially winter: "I feel a polar January sun between March and I".
It's the perfect album for this time of year, still in the grips of winter's misery, but daring now to look forward to sunny days. The whole thing is incredibly fragile. I listened to it on repeat three times this Saturday, singing along with every word, trying out new harmonies, yet somehow not realising it existed at all. I should warn you, though - it's not an easy album. The thought of pale, over-edcuated white college boys playing sonic alchemists is not a pretty one. But I love the result.