Cardinal was originally a trio comprised of Australian ex-pat and former Mole Richard Davies, multi-instrumentalist Eric Matthews and drummer Bob Fay, but soon became primarily a collaboration between Davies and Matthews. Davies and Matthews strengths (songwriting and arranging respectively) complimented each other perfectly, but sadly their work together did not last very long. The collaboration resulted in a lone 7" EP and a stunning 10 track LP/CD. Originally issued on the late, lamented Flydaddy label, the self-titled CD was reissued a few years ago with 11 bonus tracks, including 2 of the 4 tracks originally featured on the Toy Bell EP.
Personally I was a bit ambivalent about the bonus tracks on the reissue. All of them are worth hearing, but part of what made the original CD release special for me was its brevity. When the album was released in 1994 it seemed record labels believed that every album had to fill a CD to near its 80 minute capacity. It was rare to hear an album that was less than an hour long, which resulted in a lot of over-stuffed, unfocused, tedious albums. By contrast, Cardinal, clocking in at just a hair over 30 minutes, was a model of concision. There is not a wasted note on the album.
Of course if all Cardinal had going for it was brevity, it would not be so warmly remembered today. Mojo called the album "one of the best albums of the 90s" and its hard for me to disagree. With post-Nevermind grunge lite wannabees flooding the market by 1994, Cardinal's lushly orchestrated pop felt like a breath of fresh air. While Cardinal's chamber pop had precedents in the music of The Left Banke, Emmit Rhodes, Love, Burt Bacharach and others, it was so skillfully executed and memorable that it sounded completely fresh, even if you were aware of the duos' influences.
For some reason two tracks from the Toy Bell EP were left off the CD reissue, the original version of "Big Mink" and "It Turns on in a Circle on a Pedestal." Both are worth hearing, but I imagine quite hard to find today given the relative scarcity of their debut EP.
Davies and Matthews attempted to resume their collaboration a couple years ago, but I understand the reunion was very short lived due to the same type of artistic differences that broke up Cardinal in the first place.