S.S. CARDIACS CD release with REPUBLIC OF SAFETY and the BICYCLES at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), tonight (Thursday, May 26). $5. 416-603-3090, www.sscardiacs.com. Rating: NNNNN
If that whole Corey Clark sex scandal actually pans out and American Idol's producers are forced to replace Paula Abdul with a new pop pundit, they should consider giving Steve Kado a call.
Besides having better hair and accessories, the founder of Toronto's Blocks Recording Club (and member of a handful of bands including the Barcelona Pavilion and Jon-Rae and the River) apparently has an unsung gift for putting together insta-rock bands.
At least so claim the members of the newly minted S. S. Cardiacs, who have Kado to thank for the harder wallop of their new lineup. Although they're gearing up for the official release of their Blocks debut, Fear The Love, tonight at Sneaky Dee's, the current roster boasts only a single remaining Cardiac from the band on record - winsome frontwoman and founder Jessie Stein.
"The joke is that we're the first prefab band on Blocks," Stein laughs over hummus and nachos at a bar on Ossington. "Steve Kado heard the record and was like, 'You've gotta meet this guy - he's so-o-o awesome. You must call him. Oh my god, he's the best!'
"I knew the band had to change. It got too dramatic. (Former members) Dana and Andy started dating, and I didn't deal with it very well. I wanted the band to sound different, too, and that wasn't coming naturally."
In need of something grittier and, er, not quite as cutesy as the Cardiacs' original sound, Stein agreed to let Kado pass a copy of the already finished record to Leon Taheny, a multi-instrumentalist, studio whiz and Blocks MVP who recorded and helped shape the gorgeous Final Fantasy record. Taheny dug it, he and Stein started playing together.
"And now I worry about his eating habits," she smiles.
The Cardiacs can also thank Kado for being a bass pimp and hooking 'em up with Matt King (Viking Club), who joined the band after their interim bassist, Mike Small, signed a boob in Halifax. Small dropped out after his girlfriend saw a photo of the autographed mammary on the Internet and flipped out.
Happily, all three members seem quite pleased with the current lineup, as they peacefully dip pita pieces like they've been sharing tapas for years. They're coming off the adrenaline of their last real rehearsal before two official disc launch parties (in Montreal and Toronto) and sheepishly admit they've just now finally managed to nail enough songs for a set.
Along with new material (which Stein, Taheny and King agree is a bit harder and louder), the S. S. Cardiacs have been trying to rejig material from Fear The Love, a charming and ragged album that sounds a bit Pavementy, a bit Jaleish and a bit like the younger sister of a By Divine Right disc. The latter is no surprise, since BDR mastermind Jose Contreras is Stein's older brother (Dan Burke still insists on calling Stein Contreras) and produced and played on Fear The Love.
Stein's got a reputation for writing charming candy-coloured indie pop songs, and most of the album keeps fairly close to that paradigm. The most interesting bits, however, occur when the songs seem to slip their moorings, exploding into spiralling waves of psyched-out guitar and fuzzed-out bass lines that form a neat counterpoint to Stein's sweet girly vocals, which bend and fray in tandem with the dynamics.
Those moments are what she was aiming for, says Stein.
"I don't listen to cute bands. I don't like Juliana Hatfield. I wasn't there for it, so it's kind of irrelevant at this point to go back to it - I don't even have that nostalgia."