A stylistic about-face from the Sea & Cake frontman on his third solo LP.
David Sheppard 2010-09-24
A stalwart of Chicago’s intrepid leftfield creative community, Sam Prekop’s musical renown is based on his work in turn-of-the-90s rock band Shrimp Boat and subsequently as leader of The Sea & Cake, the deft Windy City quartet whose marriage of liquid electric guitars, breathless vocals and African and Brazilian rhythms has won them a loyal international following. Prekop has also delivered two solo albums which broadly inhabit The Sea & Cake’s mellifluous, alternative pop manor, but this, his third, is a substantial about-face.
Eschewing vocals entirely, it’s an album that relies almost entirely on the myriad tones and textures of the analogue modular synthesiser to create a sometimes austere, highly detailed music – a study in the near-organic properties of non-digital, processed electronic noise. Inspired by such recondite pioneers as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, proto-ambient composer Raymond Scott and audio-visual artist David Behrman, it’s not an album fans of Prekop’s signature drowsy vocals and woozy choruses are going to warm to instantly. Not that it’s entirely unapproachable – far from it, there are luminous passages and lulling, almost cartoonish refrains to be found among the synthetic scree – merely unexpected.
Unexpected that is, until you’re reminded that Prekop is also a professional painter; indeed, while The Sea & Cake’s music might be deemed analogous with vividly coloured figurative painting, Old Punch Card offers a contrasting, but no less heartfelt, abstraction. Thus, the opening title-track presents shimmering, sequencer-like pulses that sound like something Giorgio Moroder and Joe Meek might have cooked up, while the episodic Knitting Needles and Brambles both brim with the dainty, eccentric electronic squiggles beloved of early Cluster, evoking everything from darting schools of fish to water disappearing down a plug hole.
Prekop lets his rigorous aesthetic grip slip on November September which features an interloping acoustic guitar, although even this eschews orthodoxy in favour of curious, spiky improvisations. Like many of the tracks here, it soon evolves into something else; this time a minimalist synthetic throb ineffably redolent of city grids as seen from the air or, as the album title implies, the workings of some antediluvian computer.