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Cardiacs – a video primer

Cardiacs are my new favorite band of all time. They’ve been around since the early 1980s at least but astonishingly I never heard of them until last year, when I discovered the video for their early song “Tarred and Feathered” (not for the faint of heart or ear), which made me gape deliriously with a “you can make music like that?” reaction, one I’ve only had a few times in the past (Conlon Nancarrow and Phil Kline come to mind).

They’ve been described as “pronk”, or “prog-punk”, and I guess I can see that; there’s the musical interestingness of a lot of prog, combined with a punk sort of energy. Some of my favorite bands (the Pixies, the Minutemen, etc.) have that sort of mix, in varying ratios, and it rarely fails to please me. With Cardiacs the music is even more out there than usual, though.

It is amazing how relatively obscure they are — I spend a lot of time looking for music like this, and I somehow was able to miss them for decades — but fortunately they’re really well represented on YouTube, partially because the fanbase they do have is so rabid. Here are ten links to explore, in roughly chronological order, if the above description sounds appealing.

  • Gibber and Twitch (rehearsal (with misspelled title)) is a great example of their early hyper can’t-stay-in-one-place-for-more-than-ten-seconds style, though it’s actually a 2003 rehearsal video (there are keyboard parts you can’t see played because they use backing tapes in performance these days).
  • Tarred and Feathered (video) is an amazing piece of work, with enough musical ideas for four songs, and the gonzo ‘performance’ (the keyboardist and percussionist, at least, aren’t making any attempt to play their real parts) makes for one of the more arresting videos I’ve ever seen.
  • Big Ship (live) is off-the-wall and catchy at the same time, with a giant maestoso singalong chorus at the end that gives me chills. A good litmus test – if this is too crazy for you, you probably don’t stand a chance with most of their repertoire, but if you can imagine acquiring this taste, the rest will probably follow.
  • Everything Is Easy (live) is pretty straightforward but boy does it rock.
  • Is This the Life? (video) is their one hit, so I have to include it here, but honestly it’s one of my least favorite songs of theirs – it sounds like a Cure song to me.
  • Baby Heart Dirt (live) shows off their early funhouse style with an awesome riff and some great synchronized instrumental insanity in the second half.
  • Odd Even (music) is unusual in many respects for a Cardiacs song, but it shows that Tim Smith can write pretty (but still quirky) ballads when he wants to. And that keyboard solo!
  • Fiery Gun Hand (music) rocks with a righteous fervor, and as with Baby Heart Dirt, the second half of it is stuffed with more random awesome musical ideas than you can count.
  • Dirty Boy (music) is for many fans the ultimate Cardiacs song, nine majestic minutes of slowly-moving chords, spiraling ever higher and higher.
  • Wind and Rains Is Cold (fan video) is from their last full-length (so far), Guns. Not the one song from that album I would have chosen, but it’s the one I can find on YouTube, and it’s nice to have something like this after all the rockers above to show off their range a little.