The Sea And Cake Everybody

[Thrill Jockey; 2007]

Styles: A day off, 75 and mostly sunny
Others: Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, Tortoise, Shrimp Boat, Coctails, Jesus

As a fervent fan of The Sea And Cake’s long, consistent career, their last outing, 2002’s One Bedroom, freaked me out. As with all of their releases, it had plenty of songs to like, even love. But after 2000’s masterpiece of subtlety, Oui, the overwhelming amount of post-production bells and whistles, drum effects, and samples on One Bedroom seemed a resounding step backwards to the synthed-out days of 1997’s The Fawn.

My fear felt justified, but I should have known better than to question Prekop, Prewitt, McEntire, and Claridge.

The Sea And Cake’s talent for finding a pretty, laid-back groove, then allowing it to run its course, turns off a solid block of (supposed) music intelligentsia. I imagine that listening to a single track of theirs, promoted on some useless blog, must elicit little more than a sigh or guilty episode of foot-tapping. At worst, it may conjure boredom for the roving mouse arrow, so hopeful the next hyperlink will reveal a new sound to slap the senses to life, be it with bass drone or an effervescent horn section. Hip music consumers, by definition, want something new and refreshing, often at the cost of quality.

The Sea And Cake aren’t concerned with being new. Rather, their concern is just being themselves, trying out new sounds of interest, all the while playing unapologetically contented music. On record, they’ve traveled from pop to jazz, soul, rock, electronica, lounge, and even touches of dance, never totally settling for one form or another. So after One Bedroom, which seemed such an extreme, I should have known they’d swing back again to a more organic, live direction. Trying some new sounds while keeping much of the old, the Brian Paulson (Slint, Wilco)-produced Everybody is reassurance in the form of an immensely enjoyable pop-rock record.

That being said, I can’t much stand the first song, “Up On Crutches.” It’s a little annoying; Sam Prekop’s usually fitting vocals don’t quite jive, and the track doesn’t go anywhere in particular. The song deserves a chance, sure, yet I find myself skipping ahead to track number two most times -- no, make that every time -- I listen to the album. Take that for what it’s worth. But with that second track, the buoyant and lovely “Too Strong,” Everybody gains its stride as an album of satisfying, summery rock. In other words, it’s another Sea And Cake record.

Still, there are a few notable changes for these Chicagoans. Most obvious, they actually use guitar distortion on the handclap-propelled single “Crossing Line.” In fact, throughout the new material, the band seem at their most comfortable embracing the electric guitar since 1995’s The Biz. They bring back some of their jazzy roots with Archer Prewitt’s limber noodling on “Exact To Me,” and throw in some expertly utilized keyboards on “Introducing,” perfecting a creeping, subtle groove. The rest breezes by and sighs at its own ambling pace.

I’ve long thought of The Sea And Cake’s music as something for continued enjoyment, without having to give yourself a cross look in the mirror, well into those most feared and reviled middle ages. I accept that this trait is the very reason the band, great and successful as they are, eschew great surges of attention. But no matter what you think of The Sea And Cake’s style, here they deliver an increasingly precious treat for the internet-saturated music fan: a solid rock album free of anxiety, and (most thankfully) hype.

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