[4 February 2003]
Through years of scientific testing and intellectual deduction, I have come to realize that are essentially three audiences for music reviews. The first group is the diehard fans that are going to buy the record no matter what, but are curious to read what the critics think. Group one will respond to reviews with a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing their love of the band is shared by others, or with fierce feelings of indignation that prompt immediate reprisal through letters to the editor. Group two is comprised of the casual fans that own an album or two by the band, and are wary about running and purchasing another. Group three are the people who have heard of the band, but never actually heard them. These are the people who have seen that the band being reviewed has been name-checked by bands they like or by friends of theirs who have good taste in music. In response to these audiences, critics often try to write for at least two out of three, knowing that to truly satisfy all groups they’d have to write a tome that no one would want to read. However, in an attempt to do something revolutionary, I am going to attempt to satisfy all groups. Simply find your group in bold, read the review and skip the rest.
Group 1 (Diehard Sea and Cake fans): While One Bedroom is certainly a worthy follow up to 2000’s Oui, it is not one of their best albums. One Bedroom follows down the path of breezy, slightly electro, jazzy pop that the group has been perfecting since The Fawn. Although this will not stand out as a landmark in the quartet’s cannon, it is a worthy addition to any fan’s collection.
Group 2 (Casual Sea and Cake Fans): Chances are your feelings about One Bedroom can be decided on whether or not you like the path the group has taken ever since 1995 when they released The Fawn. It was that album that showed the group moving away from the more straight-up jazz and jam elements of their self-titled debut and its follow up, Nassau, towards a more electronic, breezier sound. The quartet seemed to perfect their new sound on their last album, Oui, and like a true craftsmen on One Bedroom, they seem intent on honing their sound. From the dreamy opening of “Four Corners”, which features a Stereolabish backbeat, it’s clear the Cake are not interested in experimentation. “Hotel Tell” has the group flexing some of thier more ambient sound muscles before the song breaks into the closest thing the band has ever come to producing a dance track. “Interiors” is another highlight as the group drifts towards what My Bloody Valentine might sound like if someone stripped them of their feedback. The album closes with a cover of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” giving listeners a glimpse of what the world might sound like if it were all filtered through the Sea and Cake. Not an essential album, but a worthy album to your collection none-the-less.
Group 3 (Newcomers): The Sea and Cake have always seemed to serve as the lighter side of Chicagos’ Thrill Jockey scene. While standard bearers Tortoise are celebrated for their technical precision, odd time changes, and techno/jazz hybrids, the Sea and Cake are revered for their whimsical pop leanings. In some ways, the Sea and Cake are the yin to Tortoise’s yang. Even their name, derived from a mispronunciation of a Gastr Del Sol song, implied lighter leanings. Perhaps because of that, every new Tortoise release is greeted with magazine covers and writers wondering if they will produce Pete Townshend’s celebrated Hidden Chord, while the Sea and Cake seem to be more name checked in other people’s articles. At the same time, all of the Sea and Cake’s releases have been stellar, garnering warm responses from a dedicated following.
The Sea and Cake’s self-titled debut, released in 1994, served as a blueprint to the lighter side of the instrumental/math rock/nu-jazz sound, all topped by Prekop’s summertime voice that seems as if it was created with the sole purpose of fronting this group. The supergroup, comprised of ex-Shrimp Boat frontman Sam Prekop and bassist Eric Claridge, Tortoise drummer and producer du-jor John McEntire, and guitarist and noted singer/songwriter Archer Prewitt, has spent almost a decade honing its style. The group’s sound has metamorphasized from early standout singles like “Jacking the Ball”, “Bring My Car I Feel to Smash It”, and “Parasol” to a more fluid, album-oriented one. In 1997 they released The Fawn which showcased a substantial electronic influence. Two Gentleman, an EP of re-mixes, followed, showing that the band’s new style was here to stay. The group hit their nadir on Oui, released in 2000, as they cemented the sound they had been searching for from the beginning.
In 2002 the group is intent on honing their craftsmanship with One Bedroom. The album opens with the dreamy strumming of “Four Corners”, displaying why the group makes such excellent lazy spring morning music. The record proceeds through a run of upbeat numbers that are awash in blips, gurgles and synthesizer manifestations. On “Hotel Tell”, the group dares to bust a move, turning out what could easily be called their most danceable number. Not that the coffee-time devotees have anything to worry about, as it would be impossible to imagine even that track seeing the inside of a club. On “Left Side Clouded”, Prekop sings, “We reject the timing, it’s not so bad, just misplaced.” While I’m sure it wasn’t his intent (most of his lyrics are purely train of thought ramblings), the line somewhat represents why the Sea and Cake stand out from their brethren; rather than getting bogged down in intricacies, they concentrate on the beauty of the song. “Interiors” is another highlight as the group drifts towards what My Bloody Valentine might sound like if someone stripped them of their feedback. The album closes with a cover of Bowie’s “Sound and Vision”, giving listeners a glimpse of what the world might sound like if it were all filtered through the Sea and Cake.
If you are hearing the Sea and Cake for the first time, their self-titled debut and Oui are by far more essential albums. However, this is not a bad way to get introduced to a style of music that will wrap itself around you like the comfort of a day spent staring at the clouds wondering about the possibilities of life.