Cardinal – Hymns (Fire)

I remember distinctly that day when first I heard Cardinal’s one and only record back in 1994. I was young, new to NYC, and this album indoctrinated me into the lush world of orchestral indie rock. It was restrained and spare but also as rich and musical as it’s earlier influences (Scott Walker or perhaps selected Beach Boys from the 60’s). The band, the Aussie Richard Davies and American multi-instrumentalist Eric Mathews, were a perfect pair combining a new wave sensibility with a classically trained chamber rock competence.

And so, almost 20 years later, the duo reunited unexpectedly to record “Hymns.” Like it’s predecessor, the ten songs are serious and breathy, filled with sophisticated harmonies, catchy guitar lines and plenty of Matthew’s trademark brass. On “Rosemary Livingston” Davies charming vocals orbit around the refrain “I want you to change/but stay the same,” a meditation suitable for this long awaited follow up. From the piano driven balladry of “General Hospital” to the more rock oriented “Carbonic Smoke Ball” we are reminded how original and iconic this band was and still is. Bands like Cardinal defy time and genre, hard to place, but never out date.

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

Bitte OrcaTo say Dirty Projectors is an acquired taste would be both a probable understatement and disrespectful to the band. This is the kind of music that only happens when a kid from Yale with a big vocabulary, great taste in music and a broad musical education decides to make indie rock records. The result is mash-up of well appointed classical strings, unusual choral and vocal timings, synth-based electronic beats, and incredibly diverse guitar lines. This is art rock for those with a pop sensibility.

“Bitte Orca” is one part Jeff Buckley, one part “Graceland,” and part ’77 era Talking Heads. Any attempt to describe what happens over the course of the album’s nine songs could be seen as misleading: broadly dance music, but nothing I would know how to dance too, but then something way more precious and chamber music-like, best relegated to a drawing room, and then vocal gymnastics not really definable at all. The only real thread for me is that all directions initiated within these songs lead to and start from somewhere I can comfortably call brilliant.