Around 1991, Cardiacs members Tim Smith, Sarah Smith and William Drake collaborated to record material for their side project The Sea Nymphs. 25 years later, a core of their unreleased music has re-emerged from the vaults, and forms their new compilation On The Dry Land. Any Cardiacs fan (or ‘pondie’ as we are often called) will understand how significant this event really is. In 2008, Tim Smith suffered a tragic combined stroke and heart attack, removing him from music almost entirely and leaving any hope of new or revived material unlikely. It was only recently that Smith was able to return to the studio and oversee the mastering and production of this truly unique collection of unreleased songs.
Upon first listen, it is clear that On The Dry Land, like the The Sea Nymphs in general, does away with most of the vivacity and downright lunacy that was associated with Cardiacs’ wider oeuvre. Instead, the trio explored a softer, hypnotic and almost hymn-like sound, often accompanied with fantastical ocean imagery. This forms the framework of many of On The Dry Land’s standout tracks (‘Sea Snakes Beware’, ‘Heaven Haven’, ‘Mirmaid’s Purse’). Of course, the vivacity sometimes emerges through the seams of this record (‘The Black Blooded Clam’ and ‘On The Dry Land’ are notable examples); and it is no surprise that their distinctly off-kilter key changes and chord progressions remain an essential element of the songwriting. But On The Dry Land is far from a musical circus act. The album distills a poignancy that Cardiacs only seldom showed in tracks like ‘Stone Age Dinosaurs‘ and ‘Is This The Life‘. William Drake’s reverberating organ keys. Sarah Smith’s delicate vocals. The array of string and woodwind instruments.
With it’s gentle and idyllic demeanor, On The Dry Land serves as the swansong for the collaboration of these talented musicians, as they take their separate paths through the ocean. It accomplishes the same symbolism as ‘Foundling’ does when it closes Cardiacs‘ Sing To God: it slowly and very gracefully cuts the power.
Progressive, pop, ethereal, angularity
Sounds A Tad Like
Cardiacs, Spratley Japs, Devo, Riot
On The Dry Land, Mirmaid’s Purse, Sea Snakes Beware
The Motherland, UK