Review : The Sea and Cake - Runner
PitchforkNothing reminds you that you've been taking the Sea and Cake for granted quicker than listening to a new Sea and Cake album. When they play together, John McEntire, Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, and Eric Claridge occupy an indie rock niche all their own, and their utter consistency at turning out well-wrought, prettily cerebral records might help explain why they've never met a hype cycle that paid them any mind in spite of the quality of their music. Trends come and go, but the Sea and Cake are more or less constant, and have been for almost 20 years. Even when what they do comes into vogue, as it has a few times, they seem to be left out of the think pieces because they're not new.
Dispositionally, their music sits in an open-air bar on a beach in St. Kitts, but sonically, it sits on a beach between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, with an occasional chill in the breeze blowing off the water. Sam Prekop's voice is a breathy wisp that champions tone over diction, and as such it fits in with the self-effacing playing of his bandmates. Listening to the gorgeously captured sounds on Runner, the band's 10th LP (counting last year's relatively concise The Moonlight Butterfly), it's clear that these are highly accomplished musicians, but there's not a single moment where all that prodigious technique isn't kept on a tight leash. Prewitt might unleash a ragged and fiery lead on "Skyscrapers" after the first verse, but McEntire's neat and orderly production keeps it from raising the temperature of the song too much.
For a lot of bands, that kind of imposed restraint might be suffocating-- oddly, it helps this group's music breathe. "Harps" is practically all breath, a song so light it feels as if the slightest gust could snatch it away-- Prewitt's e-bowed guitar part gives it a sort of Berlin-period Bowie vibe, and McEntire's crisp drums are its only ballast. It's easy to just let the album play and fill the room while you do something else, but a close listen reveals a lot of thought and care in the way these songs are constructed. One of the most startling left turns on the album comes when "The Invitations" transitions unexpectedly from a normal, breathy Sea and Cake song into a sort of beachy, droney disco track halfway through....full text
BbcRunner is The Sea and Cake’s 10th album in 18 years, during which time the Chicago band’s guitar-led blend of indie, jazz, Brazilian and African melodic patterns and electronic atmospheres has changed in ways that are very much more about evolution than revolution. If you woke up not knowing if this was 1995 or 2012, hearing the latest Sea and Cake album wouldn’t settle the issue.
But Radiohead-style reinvention is only one strategy for keeping your art fresh. The Sea and Cake are on a more minimalist trajectory, which last year saw them produce one of their better (and briefest) albums, The Moonlight Butterfly. It might be an exaggeration to call that album and Runner examples of late style – the distinct phase certain artists enter into towards the end of their careers – but band leader Sam Prekop has said of these new songs that in their developmental stage he “became quite cavalier with them, painting with a new fat sloppy brush… The songs were feeling pleasantly out of control.”
Big differences in process don’t necessarily result in big differences in the end product, but the important thing is not that Runner should sound new, but that it should sound fresh. And for much of its length it undeniably does. Prekop’s smooth vocal line nuzzles the melody, his distinctive style sounding like a man who knows the tune and the metre, but isn’t 100% sure of the words. His voice mirrors the lapping, breaking-wave interplay between Prewitt and Prekop’s guitars and John McEntire’s and Eric Claridge’s rhythm bed that characterises the band’s dreamiest work, exemplified here on closing track The Runner....full text
InyourspeakersWhat do you call a record with two good songs? A single. The Sea and Cake would have done better to leave it at that. Despite no less than nine previous albums, the Chicago indie-pop has dredged up nothing to get excited about. Their tenth record, Runner, will be released the 18th of September on Thrill Jockey Records. The group's efforts capture none of the emotion of band member Archer Prewitt's dark and delightful solo comic Sof' Boy. Instead, The Sea and Cake presents palatable pop generica without features or blemishes—as pleasant and boring as a Starbucks Frappunccino.
The Sea and Cake may very well be the easy listening of indie rock. With two exceptions, the album twangs soft and forgettable. These exceptions are the first and second tracks: “On and On” and “Harps.” The album opener is a fuzzy but driven pleasure reminiscent of shoegaze group Arc in Round's latest record. A kicking drumbeat drives the track along and Sam Prekop's vocals surf pretty above the distortion. The guitar warbles into the distance and the group transitions into a synth-pushed second song building into a candy nougat both sunny and sweet. These respectable openers may build hope for a solid album, but after this point the record dissolves into one bland pop piece after another.
Although not a long record by any means, Runner seems to crawl its way to a finish. Every song follows the format and attitude established by the first two tracks. Prekop's mumbled vocals lose their charm fast and start to sound weird, unnatural and half-whispered—not to mention illegible. When he harmonizes with himself the effect feels masturbatory rather than pretty. The record's failings cannot be blamed on vocals alone, though. Halfhearted finger-picking on “Harbor Bridges” does no more to inspire than stuttering electric guitarwork on “New Patterns.” “Skyscraper” regains some of the rhythmic dynamism of the album's opener, but then the descent resumes toward a crashing and mediocre climax in the form of “Pacific.” “I'm getting nowhere!” Prekop seems to exclaim from the cyclical depths of a Mario Sunshine themed purgatory. When compared to The Sea and Cake members' work in a different group on a different track with 'Pacific' in the title this failing really makes you wonder where it all went wrong. In promotional material, the band discusses how they were separated during the bulk of the recording of their new album—and can you ever tell. The album's lack of focus becomes its dominant trait as it drifts from one watery fluff track to the next. The ultimate flaw of Runner, however, isn't in its mediocre instrumentation or its lack of focus—for many of its tracks sound nice enough—but in its utter lack of emotion. Even whimsy feels plastic in the hands of this group, and the smiling triangle on the record's cover stares back at you with hollow quirk and empty cheer. Creepy....full text
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