A 10th album which suggests the band’s autumn could be a long and productive one.
Chris Power 2012-09-13
Runner is The Sea and Cake’s 10th album in 18 years, during which time the Chicago band’s guitar-led blend of indie, jazz, Brazilian and African melodic patterns and electronic atmospheres has changed in ways that are very much more about evolution than revolution. If you woke up not knowing if this was 1995 or 2012, hearing the latest Sea and Cake album wouldn’t settle the issue.
But Radiohead-style reinvention is only one strategy for keeping your art fresh. The Sea and Cake are on a more minimalist trajectory, which last year saw them produce one of their better (and briefest) albums, The Moonlight Butterfly. It might be an exaggeration to call that album and Runner examples of late style – the distinct phase certain artists enter into towards the end of their careers – but band leader Sam Prekop has said of these new songs that in their developmental stage he “became quite cavalier with them, painting with a new fat sloppy brush… The songs were feeling pleasantly out of control.”
Big differences in process don’t necessarily result in big differences in the end product, but the important thing is not that Runner should sound new, but that it should sound fresh. And for much of its length it undeniably does. Prekop’s smooth vocal line nuzzles the melody, his distinctive style sounding like a man who knows the tune and the metre, but isn’t 100% sure of the words. His voice mirrors the lapping, breaking-wave interplay between Prewitt and Prekop’s guitars and John McEntire’s and Eric Claridge’s rhythm bed that characterises the band’s dreamiest work, exemplified here on closing track The Runner.
The album’s upbeat tracks, like Harps, are infectious, and the almost syrupy New Patterns – which could be vintage Lemonheads for much of its length – makes an interesting shift into delicately textured Krautrock, but it’s the album’s more reflective passages, like A Mere, that house its greatest pleasures.
The Sea and Cake’s music is more about mood than narrative, as with the largely acoustic Harbor Bridges’ gorgeous evocation of summer’s end. It’s this quiet sort of noticing, at which they’re so skilled, that suggests the band’s autumn could be a long and productive one.