For those uninitiated into the spellbinding world of Cardiacs, The Sea Nymphs were an extracurricular offshoot from the revered UK oddballs, featuring key members Tim Smith, Sarah Smith and William D Drake. Although instantly recognisable as part of Cardiacs’ eccentric world, the trio eschewed their alma mater’s remorseless melodic intricacy and bewildering dynamics in favour of a more sweetly psychedelic blend of wistful acoustic folk with added hints of chamber music.
Exactly why this, their second album, has been denied an official release for over two decades has yet to be fully explained, but such is the rabid devotion of Cardiacs fans that it’s hard to imagine a single one of them failing to emit squeaks of delight at the prospect of hearing these songs for the first time. Only three tracks have been aired previously, as part of a Radio 1 session in 1998, but the rest are utterly unfamiliar and all the more bewitching as a result. Chuck in the joyous news that Tim Smith has recovered sufficiently from his ongoing health concerns to have put long-awaited finishing touches to these recordings and On The Dry Land suddenly seems extremely important: a gentle return for the great man, perhaps, but a return of sorts nonetheless. If there’s any chance of the lost Cardiacs album surfacing too, that would be marvellous.
A gentle return for the great man, Tim Smith.
Those familiar with the Sea Nymphs’ eponymous 1995 release will feel immediately at home with the likes of Big River and Cut Yourself Kidding: all snipped from the same cloth as their better known forebears, but somehow fuller and more elegant in sound, they are as British as tea and toast, but the underlying sense of otherworldly mischief that permeated Cardiacs’ finest material is here in spades too. The soaring synths of Bye Bye Spirit and the woozy, circus macabre of The Black Blooded Clam keep everything firmly in prog-friendly territory, while the skewed parping and strident pub piano of William D Drake’s title track gently proclaim proud roots in the British psychedelic pop tradition.
Perhaps the greatest thing about rediscovering The Sea Nymphs is how Tim Smith’s extraordinary gifts as a songwriter and arranger – and, indeed, those of his comrades – lose none of their twinkling efficacy in these more minimal and austere sonic surroundings. From the delicate madness of Sarah Smith’s Eating A Heart Out to the spiralling ivories of superbly-named closing track Wanky, On The Dry Land tells the faithful what they already knew: herein lies big, shiny genius. If you’ve never had the pleasure, this is a magical a place to start as any.