The Sea and Cake | 10.28.12

“It was fascinating to hand over almost complete works and have the other members of the band have at it, rip up, reconfigure, reconsider. Just when I felt I couldn’t go further on a song, someone in the band would change it forever.”

 

 

 

  

If one is pressed to pick an adjective to describe the Sea and Cake, it’s tempting to go with “sleepy.” Without a doubt, the Chicago-based quartet’s music has its sleepy qualities: between the hushed vocals delivered in a delicate almost-whisper and the gently picked guitars that float and flit around the sedate rhythm section, the band’s discography (now at a mighty nine albums) is definitely a suitable soundtrack for a summer afternoon nap or a late winter’s night reading session under a warm blanket.
 
But much like another band laden with the “sleepy” handle, Dean Wareham’s Luna, there’s a richness and complexity that rewards giving the Sea and Cake a deeper listen. Their landmark 1994 self-titled debut (released, like all their discography, on Chicago indie Thrill Jockey) mixed a healthy dose of driving mid-tempo jangle-pop tunes like “Jacking the Ball” and “Choice Blanket” (built around frontman Sam Prekop’s trademark whisper and the intricate interplay between the guitars of Prekop and Archer Prewitt) with more laconic songs that stretched out into jazzy jams. As their career progressed, the band began integrating synthesizers and programmed loops, yet they somehow never sacrificed their music’s intimate, handmade feel.
 
As the band approached their twentieth anniversary, they decided to take a different tack for their latest album, Runner (released in September, once again on Thrill Jockey). Building off of the band’s experimental 2011 EP The Moonlight Butterfly and his work on the soundtrack for the film Paviliion, Prekop developed the skeletal framework of the songs not on guitar but on modular synthesizers and sequencers “The modular synth parts didn’t always make it through to the final recordings, but the influence is still there,” says Prekop. “Having the pieces start in my home studio, I became quite cavalier with them, painting with a new fat sloppy brush. The songs were feeling pleasantly out of control and I was hearing music unlike other material I had come up with before.”
 
Once the framework has been built, Prekop shared the results with his bandmates remotely. “What the band brought was more reactionary, impulsive, since the foundation was already there,” Prekop recalls. “The pieces seemed able to absorb a new kind of risk taking. It was fascinating to hand over almost complete works and have the other members of the band have at it, rip up, reconfigure, reconsider. Just when I felt I couldn’t go further on a song, someone in the band would change it forever.”
 
The resulting album has a feel that is remarkably fresh for a band about to wrap up its second decade, yet it still feels decidedly like the Sea and Cake. Prekop still knows his way around a gently rollicking melody, Prewitt’s guitar delicately nibbles its way around the edges of the synth melodies, bassist Eric Claridge gives the songs a throbbing heartbeat, and drummer John McEntire’s gives Runner’s ten songs even more of a swift kick than usual. It all comes together on songs like the driving, shoegazey “On and On” and the shimmering Death Cab for Cutie-ish “Harps,” some of the most insistent, as-close-to-rocking-as-a-band-like-this-gets songs in the Sea and Cake’s uniformly compelling catalog.
 
With the ten songs on Runner, the adjective “sleepy” will be replaced in a listener’s mind with any number of other adjectives. “Gorgeous” will probably be the first one, “dreamy” is another obvious choice, but I prefer “sunny.” And as the air turns crisp and fall settles in around St. Louis, this weekend seems like an excellent opportunity to enjoy some sunny, soul-warming music courtesy of the Sea and Cake. | Jason Green
 
The Sea and Cake plays the Luminary Center for the Arts (4900 Reber Place) on Sunday, October 28. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 day of show. Doors at 7:30, show at 8, with opener Matthew Friedberger (of the Fiery Furances).
 
The official Sea and Cake website: http://www.theseaandcake.com/

 

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