Friday, November 27, 2009

November 27: The Sea And Cake, "The Sea And Cake"

Artist: The Sea And Cake
Album: The Sea And Cake
Year: 1994
Label: Thrill Jockey

Within the world of music, there are few things that are more difficult for a band then being consistent in sound, style, and success. While a majority of bands, at some point in their career, diverge from their "normal" sound to explore some new musical style (many people call this "selling out"), there are a handful of bands that stick to their original sound and simply play with greater precision as the years pass. Case in point is the absolutely fantastic and completely original sound that is presented by Chicago, IL based rockers, The Sea And Cake. Since the early 1990's, the group has released eight magnificent albums featuring and indie rock sound that is perfectly blended with elements of jazz, Caribbean sounds, and some of the most mesmerizing vocals in history. Sticking to this original sound, the groups' more recent records sound like more mature, more fine tuned versions of their earlier records, and this is the true sign of a group that understands what makes their music so enjoyable. Furthermore, this consistency makes each of their albums well worth owning, as there is not a subpar song anywhere in their catalog. Though many might argue that is their more recent, more polished efforts that are their finest, the truth of the matter is, it is The Sea And Cake's 1994 self-titled debut that stands as their finest, as it was one of the most original and pioneering records of the time and remains today a breath of fresh air in a music scene that has become increasingly stale.

The sound that one finds throughout the entire catalog of The Sea And Cake is a sound like no other, often coming off as a strange combination of Pavement, Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr, and Joy Division. The group creates about as "smart" an indie rock song as one will find anywhere, and there has truly never been another band with a similar sound. Much of the groups' great sound on The Sea And Cake comes courtesy of producer-extraordinaire, Brad Wood. Having worked with everyone from Liz Phair to Smashing Pumpkins, the sound that Wood is able to get from any band he works with easily makes him one of the most talented producers of his generation. The soft, yet not lazy sound found on The Sea And Cake is truly unlike anything else in music history, and the album perfectly represents the "anything is acceptable" idea that permeated the early 1990's music scene. Even when the band is experimenting with guitar feedback, the songs are still blissfully restrained, and the sound of The Sea And Cake is one that must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood. The Sea And Cake presents a band that is moving flawlessly as a single unit, and it is obvious that all four band members are not only exceptionally talented, but they all share a common, unique idea of exactly how they want each of their songs to sound.

Clearly, one of the key aspects in The Sea And Cake's ability to be so consistent for nearly twenty years is the fact that the band has never changed lineups, though they did take a few years off in 2003 to explore their own individual projects. The fact that the band is still making equally as fantastic music all these years later proves the point that in most cases, switching out any band member so drastically changes a band that it is simply not right to use the same band name. In the case of The Sea And Cake, each band members' efforts are equally as important, and it is the balance between all of the instruments that makes their music so fantastic. On The Sea And Cake, the dual guitar playing of Sam Prekop and Archer Prewit is what gives the album much of its distinctive mood. The way in which the two interact is often reminiscent of the sound of Television, and whether they are playing meandering chords or fast paced progressions, the two shine on every song. Bassist and synthesizer master Eric Claridge is equally superb, and it is within his musical contributions that the songs on The Sea And Cake achieve their almost "vintage" sound. Rounding out the band is percussionist John McEntire, who also contributes synthesizer playing a few times on the album. It is McEntire's ability to be as perfect when playing sparse, minimalist rhythms as he is when playing complex, jazz-influenced pieces that makes his work so amazing. Perfectly executing the various styles which they present throughout their debut record, The Sea And Cake prove that these different sounds can all be pulled together when all containing a similar, fantastic sonic mood.

On top of the absolutely astounding musical textures, the voice of Sam Prekop is the very definition of the word "perfect." Sometimes whispering, sometimes falling somewhere between singing and a slightly despondent spoken delivery, Prekop's voice is truly the ideal sound over the bands' music. Showing no limit to his vocal range, Prekop never sounds as if he is straining his voice, and this almost restrained vocal sound further reinforces the relaxed, yet amazingly complex and sonically pleasing sound of The Sea And Cake. Lyrically the group is just as brilliant as they are musically, and the words found throughout The Sea And Cake are as enchanting and textured as the music over which they are sung. Creating wonderfully vivid images and Prekop's vocals seamlessly blending in with the music, they add another layer to the already fantastic songs. Clearly showing why their name is what it is, many of the songs have nautical themes or references, and this further enforces the feeling of being on a journey of some sort that is present throughout the entire record. Though perhaps a bit simple, lyrics like, "...fill your lungs with other, the ship was going under...splintered, broken hull, when it goes we all go down, together, together..." find the ideal balance between brilliant imagery and indie-rock smarts. Sam Prekop's lyrics are nothing short of perfect on every song, and the manner with which he delivers them solidify the absolutely unrivaled mood of bliss that is found on every song on The Sea And Cake.

Throughout history, there are very few bands who have presented as distinctive and original a sound as one finds throughout the entire recorded catalog of The Sea And Cake. Every single one of their albums is consistently fantastic, and they continue to offer breaths of fresh air to a boring and unoriginal music scene. Combining together the "smarts" of the indie-rock sound with fantastic Caribbean polyrhythms and a winding, almost free form feel that is reminiscent of jazz, there has simply never been another band that even remotely sounds like The Sea And Cake. Furthermore, few bands of any genre from any time period have been able to consistently deliver similar sounding, yet equally fantastic and original songs over such a long period of time as one will find within the overall catalog of The Sea And Cake. From the stellar synthesizer and bass playing of Eric Claridge and the brilliant drumming of John McEntire, to the dueling guitars of Prekop and Archer Prewit, every single note on The Sea And Cake is perfect, and the bands' music was "smart" before the term was even used to describe music. Prekop's vocal contributions are unlike that of any other singer in history, and they are just as mesmerizing as the music, helping to create one of the most universally enjoyable sounds in music history. While every album from The Sea And Cake is worth owning as the quality remains stunningly high and consistent throughout, it is their first studio recording, 1994's The Sea And Cake that presents the building blocks for their career and was easily one of the most underplayed yet musically superior albums of the era.

Standout tracks: "Jacking The Ball," "Flat Lay The Water," and "Showboat Angel."

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