Cardia – S/T


Factually speaking, Cardia is a very talented hard-rock band, both within the realm of their physical abilities as well as that of their pop sensibilities. The hooks are there, and the instrumentation has more layers than a fresh croissant, creating a washy, effect-heavy, though extremely balanced sound. Guitar overdubs with Bat Cave-sized reverb filter in and out of the mix, which is awash with distortion and symbols that spill over the thundering toms and soaring vocals. Sounds pretty impressive, huh?
Well, it is . . . to a certain point. Unless the members are extremely unsightly, or suffer from acute stage fright or something, there seems to be little if anything standing between them and the major label experience, complete with MTV buzz, Clear Channel support, and maybe a slot opening up for Oasis or Coldplay. Their potential for mass appeal in the “alternative rock” category is more than a little obvious, and to their credit, that appears to be the sound the group has tried for on their self-titled full-length.
Now for the flipside, the downside . . . Cardia sounds like a talented hard-rock band that belongs on MTV and Clear Channel stations, and opening up for Coldplay etc. Not to play the “mainstream sucks” card, cause that’s way too trite – and besides Cardia IS a good band – but they’re way too cheesy for the serious music lover to stomach (see below for the sour lyrical content). Their sound doesn’t hover near their influences but mostly tries to duplicate them. Frankly, you’ve heard it before, about five years ago, and it was better then. OK Computer is all over this record, from the “Airbag”-ish drum beat and entrance on “Crash” (which happens to also be the opening track of Cardia’s album) through “The Pretty Ones,” which boasts a “No Surprises” bass line that locks down with the tom-heavy beat that feels just a little to familiar, and so on. The sound effects, computer tricks, all the panning (my god, so much panning!), and the high, desperate voice shimmering with vibrato is just too much. It feels like Cardia is just a bit late with all of this. The wave they want to ride has already crashed on the beach and rolled back into the sea. Not that there’s no room for it in record stores or on the radio – it might almost be refreshing in that context – but from an artistic standpoint it feels contrived and stale.
Another major problem (hinted at earlier) is that the band recorded and mixed the record themselves, and whoever in the band was at the keyboard was more than a little ProTools obsessed. The whole recording is “wet” as the Amazon, drenched in reverb, delay, compression, distortion, etc. In short: overproduced beyond recognition or repair. (See the comment about panning guitar solos left to right without mercy – moderation, boys, could help). This is where the major label swoops in and gives them a real producer and lots of dough to work out their post-production dreams with as many different ProTools programs as they want.
But now a note about the vocals. The singer, deal with the devil or no, has one of those voices that is just too powerful and with too great a range for the guy to do anything else but sing. No one is putting him anywhere near the Mount Olympus where these other rock vocalists reside, but to give a ballpark figure for his voice, think Jeff Buckley, “Louder Than Love”-era Chris Cornell, (obviously) Mr. Thom Yorke, and – yes, this is meant without a shred of irony or disdain – the legendary Sebastian Bach (the Skid Row one, of course). His overabundance of natural ability, coupled with his inability to use it and with the terrible lyrics, is what makes much of the record such a frustrating listening experience. For one, the singer never shuts the hell up. Maybe Jimmy Page had to slap him around every so often to set him straight, but even Robert Plant, ballhog of all ballhogs, knew that he had to shut his trap every so often so that the band as a whole could reach the highs that it is so legendary for. As a result, Cardia’s lead singer comes off as a showoff who is too busy listening to himself to give any credence to the song that the band is struggling to get across.
Secondly, the lyrics are embarrassing. Cliche after cliche, amateurish romantic metaphors, and worse than sophomoric social criticisms litter the band’s front lawn so abundantly they make their nice suburban home look like it belongs on some state school’s fraternity row. And I quote: “I want to fly / Up to the sky / Oh so high / Never die.” These lyrics are from what is otherwise Cardia’s best – even original – sounding track, “Up to the Sky.” And it rocks pretty hard, right up until you hear him sing that. And these from the opening track, “Crash,” are the first words of the album and set the tone for the thinly veiled attempt to give some depth to the lyrical penmanship: “Take me where the rain falls from the sky / (something inaudible) is always her best high / Come along inside and take a ride / Machines are in control of your life.” Uhhm? Well . . .
Still, Cardia is a tight, talented, and fundamentally hard-rocking band. If they can learn to moderate their tendencies, focus a bit more on the bigger picture of the song, and perhaps not try and be so dramatic all the time, it is quite conceivable that they could turn out some truly respectable music. Otherwise they can play the other game and wait for Sony or whoever to try and make them into alternative rockstars.