The Sea and Cake Dial Back the Effort on 'Any Day' and It Shows
After 24 years of recording, indie rockers the Sea and Cake give us... another album.
The Sea and Cake
11 May 2018
The constant indie favorites known as the Sea and Cake haven't had an album since 2012's Runner. And according to the review aggregate site Metacritic, it was the band's most well-received album since 2000. Part of this can be attributed to a "shake-up" in the writing process, spurned by the use of a synthesizer, but I like to think of Runner showing its edge from the first bar in "On and On". From there, Runner keeps things chugging moderately well for a rock band that was on the cusp of its 20th birthday. But as is the case with John McEntire's other Chicago-based band Tortoise, the longer the gaps between the albums get, the less interesting the music becomes.
The Sea and Cake have finally returned with Any Day, an album that finds the band about as edgy as a warm pat of butter. The guitars sparkle, the rhythm section keeps time, and Sam Prekop keeps singing right along the edge of whispering. The dynamic range is squashed down to a mid-range that won't spawn them any enemies. At the ripe age of 24, the Sea and Cake sound as undistinguished as ever, giving us an album that plays by all the rules.
If you follow the Sea and Cake, then you are serious about your music. And if you're serious about your music, then you already understand that sound and content are two different things, a fair enough objection to raise right about now. Sure, they play it safe when the microphones are on, but what about the songs themselves? In that regard Any Day is bookended by two pretty sturdy numbers. "Cover the Mountain" is the Sea and Cake at their most confident, hitting a brisk stride with something that could be confused for purpose. Closing waltz "These Falling Arms" shows off the band's skill at weaving together sighing guitars with an easygoing melody.
By comparison, the remaining eight selections sandwiched in the middle range from not-bad to kinda-boring. "I Should Care" tries to pick up on the lead-off track's momentum, but the title track puts a stop to that. "I can't help it," Prekop sings in a cadence that sounds almost like it was designed to be a whine. By the time I get to "Paper Window", the beginning of side B, I forget that the album is even playing. It's around this time when the listener may understandably realize that competent musicianship can only take a band so far.
There are a number of factors that could explain the Sea and Cake's current yawn. Maybe it's that long time bassist Eric Claridge is out of the picture and fellow Tortoise member Doug McCombs is now taking his place. Maybe it's that the Sea and Cake felt they ran their natural course with the synthesizer last time around. Or it could just be that, after so many years, this band has nothing left to prove. That is understandable. But after tucking all that experience under their collective belts, you'd think they would aspire to be more than just a discount Wilco.