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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cardiacs: Toy World


1) Icky Qualms; 2) Over And Over And Over And Over; 3) Dead Mouse; 4) A Big Noise In A Toy World; 5) Trade­mark; 6) Scratching Crawling Scrawling; 7) As Cold As Can Be In An English Sea; 8) Question Mark; 9) Is This The Life; 10) A Time For Rejoicing; 11) Aukamacic; 12) Nurses Whispering Verses.

The Cardiacs' «debut» — since this record was the very first to sport the band's final name change — is yet another cassette-only release, cut and mixed in the exact same shithole (Crow Studios) and featuring equally piss-poor sound quality that reduces even the finest-written songs to tragic sonic muck. There is one significant addition to the line-up: Sarah Cutts (soon-to-be Sarah Smith) on keyboards, sax, and clarinet, further contributing to the band's genre mix-up with a jazzy vibe. But the sound is so bad, really, that you barely notice.

Actually, to be honest, I do not like this one at all. Not only does it no longer have the novelty benefit, but it almost seems to be comprised of inferior leftovers from the previous sessions (gut feeling, mainly; however, the recording dates do give you June 1980 as the start, which is the exact date of the Obvious Identity session). The main ingredients all remain in place, but the song structures are not nearly as interesting, and too many of the songs, like ʻDead Mouseʼ, just sound like run-of-the-mill post-punk, without any of the mind-shocking twists that made the first bunch of songs so bizarrely fascinating.

There are a few classics here all the same, most notably the final number ʻNurses Whispering Versesʼ that would later be re-recorded for Seaside — not that it is more complicated than the rest, but it is certainly sharper and more desperate than the rest, with a hard-to-forget squeaky guitar line running for its life along the highway, like a scared bunny pursued by a jeep, and Smith rattling off incomprehensible lyrics that are probably about madness (incomprehensible lyrics do tend to be about madness, you know) and generating a nice little atmosphere of paranoia. Another highlight that would also make its way to Seaside is ʻIs This The Lifeʼ, which is essen­tially a slower variation on the same topic — and also featuring the best guitar work on the entire album, in the form of a glum doom-laden riff and some first-rate soloing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the tunes just fall flat due not only to the abysmal sound quality, but also to the repetitiveness — ʻAs Cold As Can Be In An English Seaʼ, for instance, has no busi­ness going over seven minutes, and ʻOver And Over And Over And Overʼ... well, with a title like that, you can probably guess for yourself (although, to be fair, that song does consist of two very distinct sections — one fast, martial, and jovial, the other slowed down and more epic; problem is, neither is particularly inspired). At the other end of the axis, the short links between songs are pointless, the silly looped laughing sounds at the end of ʻTrademarkʼ are annoying, and ʻA Time For Rejoicingʼ is two minutes of vocal-and-organ hooliganry that seems to invoke the spirit of Syd Barrett but fails, if not for the hideous sound, then for the off-key singing.

In short, if you do want to make a select acquaintance with the band's early cassette-only material, The Obvious Identity is a far better choice — actually, better than Archive Cardiacs, a 1989 compilation of select tracks from the two albums which, unlike the albums themselves, would later be reissued on CD (but presumably with the same lo-fi sound, since the master tapes were either lost or completely unfit for re-mastering). As good as these guys could be, they weren't always good, and there's not enough interesting music here for anybody to tolerate the torture of unintentional lo-fi.

1 comment:

  1. I have "Archive Cardiacs", and the sound is not bad for my ears. At least not to distract me from evaluating the music itself.

    And my verdict is similar to yours - unimpressed, but also not annoyed. Unlike their classic releases where they manage (more than, say, Sparks) both to impress and annoy.