Cardinal Harbor
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Cardinal Harbor

Chicago, Illinois, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2011 | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2011
Band Alternative Indie




"Q&A: Cardinal Harbor"

...But somewhere along that street, not far from Taco Yo and Wire, sits a home of inspiration to the bandmates of Cardinal Harbor. - Listen Live and Local

"Cardinal Harbor at Metro, 01.23.15"

The first show of 2015 for FYMS was an eclectic mixture of musicians and bands from a variety of genres, but all with one very important thing in common - calling Chicago their home base! The four openers plus headlining band Cardinal Harbor played their best sets for the Friday night crowd at Metro in Wrigleyville. While the heavy lineup made the night pretty long, the audience was up for it and the headlining band was well worth the wait.
Rory Sullivan at Metro, 1.23.15
Rory Sullivan, a singer/songwriter originally from Delaware, delivered a confident and impressive opening set. His backing band included an electric guitar (Mike), upright bass (Alex), and drums (Oliver?), in addition to himself on an acoustic. Rory has a strong clear voice that fits in with the Howie Day or Matt Nathanson genre (for a split second, the name "Phil Collins" even popped into my head..), but he also mixes in a little bit of twang and blues. Rory's songwriting is something that sets him apart, making him a double edged sword in the music biz. He's won a number of songwriting competitions like the Sara Evan's Hertz Movin With Music Songwriting Competition (2013) and was runner up in the Indie International Songwriting Contest (2014). Rory came to the Chicago scene back in 2012 and is soon to release a new album, backed by his successful Kickstarter campaign last spring (The Fan Project). I definitely think there's room for Rory Sullivan here in Chicago - his acoustic driven songs are strong enough to capture an audience's attention. And the electric guitar lines mixed into the live show were a really nice addition to an otherwise mellow but solid set. Check him out at his next gig at Beat Kitchen on February 19.
The Sweeps at Metro, 1.23.15
The Sweeps came on next. Another Chicago band, this group of indie/noise pop rockers had an interesting sound. They're normally a trio - Bob Dain (vocals, guitar), Santiago Torres (vocals, bass), and Chris Dye (drums) - but on Friday night, they had an extra guitarist (Sam Bakken) and three (yes, three) extra vocalists - Erynne Baronia, Mitch Mead, and Jess Price - I say extra, because there are already two vocalists to begin with. While they were decent vocalists, I'm not sure why The Sweeps felt the need to have additional my opinion, they could have done without, as it kind of gave off a talent show band vibe. But the heart wants what it wants. I was impressed by the vocals and energy from Bob Dain though; he reminded me of a Kevin Devine-type of rocker with a guitar - I could see him doing big things. They have worked hard to gain a favorable reputation in the Chicago music scene, having played over 300 live shows, and even had their own groupies standing front and center for their set (I believe there also was a proposal made during one of the songs!). Impressive for a young band who isn't signed to a label. This young band released their first album called Swift Armour in 2013, full of noisy songs paying homage to the lovely Chicago. They're releasing 7" vinyls for their soon to be released sophomore album, which is a pretty cool idea. I'm sure they'll be playing around town again soon, but in the meantime, check out their album here on SoundCloud. [Also check out this interview done a few days earlier with Radio One Chicago!]
Hero Monster Zero w/ 8090 at Metro, 1.23.15
This next band left me extremely confused throughout their entire set. Not to say that they were bad, but maybe just a bit genre-confused. Hero Monster Zero is a (basically) rock band of four guys who, just by looks alone, I would not expect to be friends, let alone play together in a band - Andy Metz (vocals, guitar), Chris Stell (guitar), Jesse Walk (bass), and Ryan Birkett (drums). Even though Chris Stell donned a sleeveless shirt, cowboy hat, and sunglasses during the entire set, his blues-rock riffs were surprisingly impressive and really added something extra to otherwise straightforward rock songs. As they worked through the setlist, Andy Metz's voice seemed to get closer and closer to screamo (think: 90's rock band), and then just when I thought I had them pegged, special guest Seth Williams came on stage. After doing some research, Andy Metz and Seth Williams are also a hip-hop/rap duo, also known as 8090. These two were actually really great together, my favorite of the night was a song called "Work Shirt" (check it out here). They also did a cover of "Walk This Way" that you can find somewhere here on their Facebook timeline, as well as some other videos from the night. Overall, a good band that could maybe use some genre-refinement, but they certainly all have talent and played an energetic set.
Jackpot Donnie at Metro, 1.23.15
The final opener of the night was a band called Jackpot Donnie. These guys definitely had a more put-together feel and given that they've been around since 2003, it makes a lot of sense. This band is another one that likes to blur the genre lines - while their Facebook page says "Rock", Jackpot Donnie's repertoire is comprised of songs that are a unique blend of rock, reggae, ska, and funk. They cite 311, Sublime, and Queens of the Stone Age, on their "Artists We Also Like" section, if that gives you a better idea of their sound. The five-member band, Matt Love (vocals, guitar), Brian Wise (guitar), Adam Campbell (drums), David Langley (bass), and Peter Spero (keys), was also joined by three additional vocalists. But these extra voices blended seamlessly with the main voice of Matt Love, who has a pretty great voice regardless, and contributed to the reggae-funk feel. The band's most recent EP, Mayday!, was released in 2013 and claims Steve Gillis of Filter as the producer/engineer. Having played at a number of well-established Chicago venues, I would expect them to continue booking shows around the city, so go check them out! [You can also take a listen here, for you out-of-towners.]
Cardinal Harbor at Metro, 1.23.15
FINALLY. The band I was waiting for alllll night - Cardinal Harbor. I first discovered this band in October 2014 when they opened for another one of my local favorites, The 92s. CH is a seven-piece band who met during college in the suburbs of Illinois. Having recently graduated, they are now setting out to really establish a name for themselves in the city. Spencer McCreary (vocals, guitar), Scott Carrick (saxophone), Chris Hills (guitar), Ryan Bilton (bass), newest member but long-time friend Taylor Dalton (guitar), and Julian Henderson (drums) all came together on Friday night to play a showcase a number of new songs. Sadly, their trumpet player Aaron Krumsieg couldn't be at the show, as his studies at Yale prevented him geographically, but he is still a member and will most likely still be included in future recordings (yay!).

I can't tell you how impressed I was with Cardinal Harbor the first time I heard their songs like "Memo" and "The River" live. A band who drew heavy inspiration from one of the masters of the industry, Dave Matthews, in both vocal similarities and guitar patterns throughout their debut album (2013), Cardinal Harbor has been experimenting more and more since the release of their second album, The Cold Season (2014). The brand new material brings them even further away from their original acoustic jam-band vibe - their new direction plays with the sampling of electronic beats and a vocal processing tool that add harmonies and depth to Spencer's voice; yet they're still keeping the acoustic guitar and sweet, sweet sax (which I love) as key layers of sound and melody.
The setlist opened with "Bounty" and included some of my favorites like "Revere" and "The River". Cardinal Harbor introduced us to five new songs as well, like "Cambridge, Mass", "Be-er", "Cigar Social", and "Santa Cruz". If their new song "Wildfires" is any indication of how their next album will sound, I think it's safe to say that they'll be ingeniously combining two of their strengths - acoustics/instrumental layers of sax & horn and this new-found experimentation with electronic beats and sounds.
Cardinal Harbor at Metro, 1.23.15
After hearing Cardinal Harbor play in two pretty different venues (Throne Room vs Metro), I'm inclined to say that their performance at Throne Room sounded more aligned with the atmosphere of the venue. Although, I fully believe that the Metro show was more representative of the amount of attention (aka audience size) that they should be getting as a band. I think there was something off between the vocal processor being used and the stack of amps/speakers bookending the stage because the vocals weren't as clean as I remember them to be (I heard there were some technical issues during soundcheck) - hopefully those technicalities will get ironed out as the guys get used to playing songs with more and more electronics. (sound crews, be prepared!) An extremely talented group of musicians, Cardinal Harbor is a very promising band, from both a songwriting and live performance standpoint. The guys are working on putting together new material for another album, but it might be a while before we get to enjoy it. Until then, Cardinal Harbor is playing a show on 2/13 at The Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago, and will hopefully be playing here in the city more often (Schubas, please? Music fests, please?). And when they do, I'll be sure to let you all know!

(Update: check out the website Swizzle Steve Presents for additional CH shows! Save the dates for 2/1 and 2/8, free shows at Bootleggers)
Cardinal Harbor at Metro, 1.23.15
- VS - - Free Your Music Soul

"The 92's w/ Cardinal Harbor"

Going to a live show can be a hit or a miss. The vocals could be pitchy or sound totally different from the album, the atmosphere could be wrong, the crowd too young. It's a bit of a gamble. My main criterion for choosing a show to go to is simply - can the music hold its own as a live performance? With all of the technology and auto-tuning that happens these days, it's easy for musicians to sound great on a studio recording, but can't sing a note in tune in front of an audience. When going to smaller shows (meaning a venue with capacity in the 100s, not the 1000s), more often than not, the openers are relatively unknown. Which makes it even more difficult for them to win over the audience and perform for a room full of people who aren't paying attention and instead are trying to talk over the music.

The 92s were the headliner for Saturday night's show at The Throne Room. I first saw them at TTR back in June, and they put on a great show, playing songs from their then-recently released album, Television Fuzz (March 2014). So while I knew the night would be a long one (The 92s weren't scheduled to go on until 11:45pm!), I also knew that it would be worth it. What I didn't know was whether or not the openers would be any good. TTR is a fairly new venue (circa June, 2014) that primarily features local and still underground Chicago musicians. For that reason, the crowd that gathers tends to be, in my limited experience, friends and family of whoever is playing that night. But the occasional third party risk-taker like me will also show up, hoping to discover something great.

Openers for the night began with a group called Boss Fight (who I did not get to see), followed by Route 25, and then Cardinal Harbor. I tried to find some evidence of Route 25 on the internet, to see if they were worth going early for, but could not dig up anything. However, I did find out from a chatty friend of the drummer that Route 25 just recently formed. Overall, an OK band with a sound that's reminiscent of The Foo Fighters, but lacking in chord variation and lyrics. Still needs some work.

Cardinal Harbor was much easier to research beforehand, and after listening to some tracks on Spotify, I knew that they were a must-see. According to their 2013 Kickstarter page and promo video (to help fund production of their debut album), the bandmates met at Wheaton College in IL - Scott Carrick (saxophone), Aaron Krumsieg (trumpet), Julian Henderson (drums), Chris Hills (guitar), Ryan Bilton (bass), and Spencer McCreary (guitar/vocals) - and have been playing together for a couple of years now.
Cardinal Harbor
Cardinal Harbor has two full albums under its belt - Faces on Parade (2013) and The Cold Season (2014). I started with the most recent release, which has a slight Bon Iver sound, due to the usage of auto-tune and layered vocals mixed with more electronic sounds. Faces on Parade is 100% Dave Matthews Band influenced. Anyone with ears could tell you that, after listening to songs like "Round We Go", "The River", or "Memo". It's almost uncanny how similar Spencer McCreary (lead vocals) sounds to Dave Matthews. Many would probably frown upon such a blatant influence and dismiss CH as straight up copy-catting. But in my opinion, Cardinal Harbor is (dare I say it?) better than DMB. Before you shout blasphemy, let me explain::

I never really had that unhealthy sense of worship for all things DMB, so I don't hold them up on an unreachable pedestal. Sure, they were a huge high school phase, and everyone went to a DMB concert every summer, but only to drink and smoke, and that wasn't really my thing. Something about the band's image just felt cliche to me. So I kinda boycotted them on principal.
That being said, DMB is known for being an exceptional jam-band. And yes, they can put on a great live show (or so I'm told). But I just can't get over the 20-minute long song - if you're going to ramble for that long, I need some sort of song structure or emotional progression or a few lyrics to hold everything together. I suppose it's probably to the band's advantage that everyone at their shows is high (by choice or by accident), but I just don't get what all the fuss is about. Any real band can jam.
Cardinal Harbor gives the 6-piece band legitimacy in the current music scene. The 90s was the perfect decade for ska or jam bands, but where does a group fitted with a saxophone and trumpet in its regular line-up stand today? They don't quite fit neatly into folk, or pop, or indie rock. But if a band is talented enough, fitting perfectly into an industry-labeled genre doesn't really seem to matter.

Oh, and don't get me wrong, CH can jam too (cut to: the 3:30 minute mark of their latest SoundCloud release, "Wildfires" or their song "Mirth") - but I think they do it right. It's not all over the place, it doesn't fall out of time, it doesn't leave you in a place that's totally different from where you started.

Another thing that I like about Cardinal Harbor is their growth as a band in finding their own style. Releasing a sophomore album is tricky - you don't want to sound too far removed from your debut, yet you still want it to sound different. Evolved.

Like I said before, Faces on Parade is a clear Dave Matthews Band-esque record. Nothing wrong with that - I'm sure every guy with an acoustic guitar looks to Dave as an influence (Phillip Phillips is another great example of a clearly Dave-inspired musician). It's so easy to fall in love with the sound of Faces on Parade - the songs have poetry-like lyrics, the acoustic guitar and horns are on-point, and it's cohesive enough without each track sounding too much like the next. On the other hand, The Cold Season is markedly different in style - it's obvious that they pushed themselves to leave the comfort of their DMB-stylized music and instead experimented with a more electronic sound - check out "Lies", "Arrangements", or "Bounty". Yet CH did the right thing and didn't stray too far from their best sound - "Miss Imagine" and "The Watch" pay homage to their first album and remind us why we fell in love in the first place.

Needless to say, the live set was awesome. Cardinal Harbor plays with an incredible sense of maturity and confidence, despite being such a young group of guys. Aaron (trumpet) wasn't there unfortunately, but Scott rocked it, and Julian was really fun to watch (and not to mention, super talented!). Coming off of a pretty notable performance at the House of Blues in September, I'm not sure that TTR was the best atmosphere for them - the way that the audience space is aligned to the stage makes it uninviting to stand, and more conducive to chatting around a table towards the back of the room. But it meant I got a great view for their set, so that was nice. Their setlist included "Memo", "Revere", their newest one via Soundcloud "Wildfires", and even did a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (pretty great). I really can't sing enough of their praises. Cardinal Harbor is a really talented group of guys and I'm calling it now - they're going to go very, very far.

The 92s obviously killed it. Need I say more? Check out my review from their June show if you feel like listening to me ramble about how great they are too. Dan Durley and the guys - Rob Marshall, Mateo Mullen, and new bassist Dylan Epling - are so fun to watch, and everyone in the room was dancing around and having a great time by the end of the set. They played a few new songs that are on an upcoming EP (date TBD..?) like "Unrest" and "Made of Nothing" (not to be confused with "Good to be Nothing" from Television Fuzz...but hey, correct me if I'm wrong about the song title here!?). The 92s also played "Read My Mind", "Put Me In My Place" [video from the June show], and "You Are Not Near Enough", along with some oldies from their first album like "The Incident" and "Gone Away"; the guys closed with "Cutlery Wives".
Dan Durley of The 92s
If you haven't heard of this band, well, you should check them out. They won the Red Eye Rock n Vote in 2012 and recently played at Pygmalion Fest in Urbana-Champaign. Which also featured fellow indie rockers American Football (yes, of storied emo-revival legend), Into It Over It (of current emo-revival fame), and A Great Big Pile Of Leaves in the line-up...just a few of the bands that I recognized, at least. And rumor has it that Dan Durley has recently moved to Chicago, so let's hope that means many more shows in the city for The 92s! I would see them over and over again, if given the chance.

[And sidenote: Dan couldn't have been nicer the last time that I wrote a review on The 92s. Always nice to see musicians without an ego, just doing what they love.]

Always a good time at The Throne Room, always looking for the next up-and-coming band out there. Thanks to Kamila from TTR and the Radio One Chicago guys, Hex & Dave, for getting me into the show. This is my first live show review that will be mirror-posted on the Radio One Chicago blog - a radio show on Loyola's radio station WLUW, 88.7, that airs live on Thursday from 6-8pm. So excited for the chance to build the FYMS name as a more legitimate music blog here in Chicago. Thanks everyone for the help and support!

-VS- - Free Your Music Soul

"Review: Cardinal Harbor – Faces on Parade (2013)"

College rock is a term often heard, but not so much delved into nor understand by the general public. I guess I understand it as a bit of a test market for bands that fly under the radar. Many of these bands originate in college (surprise, surprise), like the widely popular O.A.R. (Of A Revolution), formed at the Ohio State University. It’s not always the big state schools that originate the next big thing. Take Jars of Clay for example – they formed at the tiny Greenville College in Southern Illinois, near St Louis. Could Wheaton College’s Cardinal Harbor be next?

It has been said that the only difference between a local act and a national act is that someone important with a lot of money noticed the national act. Cardinal Harbor, like untold others, could become nationally popular if an influential “gatekeeper” promoted them but what separates them from this paradigm is their level of talent. I hear Dave Matthews and O.A.R. influences all over Faces on Parade. Really. I’ll admit I’m easy to please when it comes to music and I tend to divvy a fair amount of positive reviews – but I promise the praise for Faces on Parade is legit! These six dudes have some chops.

Shout out to the rhythm section driven by drummer Julian Henderson, first of all. When I was a senior at Wheaton College, I recall Henderson and his percussion buddies absolutely CRUSHING the competition at the school’s annual talent show. That sounds rather corny in writing I’ll admit – but this was a big deal. This event spurned campus-limited meme-like things – but I digress. I should probably add that the band contacted IATU with a review request – this isn’t some backhanded way of promoting my alma mater. Actually, the band had their debut performance at the college talent show so this tangent is probably more relevant than you thought it was.

Ah! The music, yes…Faces on Parade is a rather fun record to jam at any volume. Spencer McCreary’s vocals are flawless (check out that falsetto in the hook of “Memo”!). This might not mean a lot to a lot of you readers (yet) but another striking similarity I find here is to my Columbus boys in Forest and the Evergreens. This goes to show how versatile the band is. The appeal of the music is such that most people will probably have different ideas about the band’s “influences” or whom they sound like. We have moments of peace and moments of pure fun, sometimes in the same song. Most of the time things are just plain fun though (“Round We Go” for example). I mean, who doesn’t love some strategically placed horns, sax and violin, especially when the melodies are so smartly written? The songs take no shortcuts either – the final three tracks clock in at 6 minutes or longer, with “Bone Cold” taking its time yet not slowing down enough to bore us.

Bottom line: Faces on Parade is definitely a pleasant surprise for this audiophile. I just wish I had known about this record earlier in the summer.

RIYL: Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R., Dispatch, Jack Johnson, summer
Score: 4/5 - I AM TUNED UP

"Cardinal Harbor – The Cold Season"

One of the surprise standout releases of 2013, Faces on Parade from Cardinal Harbor, has been quickly outdone by its successor The Cold Season.

If you are new to the band let me reiterate the band’s similarity to groups like Dave Matthews Band and OAR. Don’t dismiss the collective as a knockoff band or you’ll miss out on a true gem. It is undeniable that the band is rising in a time period where horn-driven rock groups with soul are making a comeback – just look at St Paul and the Broken Bones for example. They’ve seemingly risen out of nowhere in the past week. Groups such as SassafraZ, Forest and the Evergreens and Dan White Sextet are making names for themselves in the Tuned Up immediate geography constituency so I can confidently say that CH will find a home away from home around here, at least.

If feel good jams are the theme of Faces on Parade, diversity is the theme of The Cold Season. Where one record introduces the world unashamedly to the band, the other record is where the gloves come off. One only need listen to the album closer “Ruins” to get a full dose of everything the band has to offer. Emotional swells of piano, guitars and horns journey your mind’s eye and physical ears to a place where you feel anything but ruined. Opener “Bounty” contrasts the crunch of rhythm guitars with a simply tasty lick lingering just in the background. “The Watch” is your quintessential horn/bass driven groove-meister, and although it kinda feels familiar – that’s ok. With any record chock full of peaks, there are valleys – such is the case with this one. Fortunately, it’s the kind of valley you want – a subdued mood, not a “filler track.” The vocals of Spencer McCreary are well suited for both scenarios and seemingly possess a warmth that you enjoy just as much on the chill “Arrangements” and “Mirth” as does “The Watch.” “Mirth” has a piano arrangement that is mixed into the track as if it were out of a fantastical realm, and thats perfectly ok with me.

You might be thinking, this guy is kissing the butts of the band to get his blog plugged with all of this praise. Trust me though – we don’t give out blind praise. If you read the blog long enough you’ll find examples.

The Cold Season takes your expectations of what Dave Matthews influenced band would sound like and introduces elements you didn’t even know would fit. Listen for yourself!
Score: 4.5/5 - I AM TUNED UP


Vulture Hottub (2019)
Euclid (2016)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Cardinal Harbor was formed on the western edge of Chicagoland's old Capone territory. They sound like a bad history book - full of lore and conspiracy. In the era of fast music, they are rather slow; they denounce genre along the way (like any good indie band): their latest release, 'Vulture Hottub' being dubbed a space western. They like playing in dive bars and abandoned churches and would play underwater if they could (can anyone out there make that happen?). The band packs a (falcon) punch with their latest record, the band's first release since Euclid in 2016. It is Cardinal Harbor refined and crystalline, exploring dark themes throughout the 47 minute runtime with a delicious, hopeful finish. 

Band Members