hen I requested the task of evaluating Everybody, it was prompted by a piece of news stating that the album would be a “return to the Sea and Cake’s roots”—the guitar-guitar-bass-drums lineup that provided the spine of their early records. Those albums, specifically the trio of The Sea and Cake, Nassau, and The Biz, have their own table in my restaurant. I hadn’t heard of the Sea and Cake until college, when an encounter with “Parasol” suddenly forced me to go out and buy up or download everything they’d done up to that point.
Out in the vast expanse of brushing autumn trees and the curving heliotropic mountaintops of the Hudson Valley, those Sea and Cake albums comfortably nestled me in the place I was, and also mysteriously aroused nostalgic sentiments for the city where I grew up, our shared hometown of Chicago. But the Sea and Cake, unlike the Smashing Pumpkins or Curtis Mayfield or practically any other Chicago artist, made me remember specific details of my childhood. Unlike Al Capone or R.J. Daley or the Jesus Lizard or Twista, the Sea and Cake are sensitive guys. Their clean, pleasing guitars, purling bass, and flittering drums, as distant as the John Hancock building was from my bedroom window on a foggy day, is a Chicago that I feel but can’t express, and is somehow the city I always remember.
What’s confusing about all this is that the Sea and Cake are not a particularly great band. They’re all talented, well-respected musicians, and they write very interesting, skewed soft rock. But none of their albums, with the possible exception of Nassau, would crack any list of my favorites. Many of their albums are spotty, flawed, and have limited replay value. I haven’t listened to Oui in years, and I’m not running to my CD library to listen to it again, and that’s why the Sea and Cake are something of an anomaly in my musical makeup: they’re one of my favorite, most personal bands, but I would never jump into a conversation to wax euphoric about them.
A great teacher once told me, “Good criticism never says outright that something is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” Fuck that. Everybody is a good album. It does everything that I would want it to do, and in some cases does more. Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt return to guitars, and the six-string ESP they perform is just as mesmerizing as it was before the latter foolishly decided to jizz keyboard lasers on One Bedroom. Per usual, Eric Claridge and John McEntire are as rhythmically solid as an Israeli tank. Like all Sea and Cake albums, there are ten reliably sufficient songs here, opening with the brisk, sweeping “Up on Crutches” and closing with the typically languid and dreamy “Transparent,” with some stunners sandwiched in between.
For some reason, Everyone and I can’t quite connect the way past Sea and Cake albums have. The songs are just as sinewy and potent as on any of their other albums, save for the forced see-sawing of the terribly titled “Exact to Me.” Even Sam Prekop, the obvious chink in the chain, has been wisely placed in the back of the mix where he belongs, repairing a sonic problem that flawed Oui and One Bedroom.
The dilemma is that I’m merely pacified, and in no way exhilarated. When this criticism was lobbed at Stereolab last year for the underrated Fab Four Suture, I thought that writers were being lazy and idiotic. But the truth is that at this point, and with the roster of Chi-town heavyweights that comprise this band, I expect more—I’m tired of being simply “satisfied” by the Sea and Cake. Perhaps this isn’t the appropriate venue, but in Everyone I see myself changed as a person, critic, and listener. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where I’ve outgrown this stuff, or maybe everyone has moved on, I don’t know. I do know that when I listened to Everyone this past weekend on a trip back to my alma mater, I couldn’t feel that wistful reminiscence anymore. But one thing I will not do is pander down to the band and its fans and tell them that this is “another strong effort by the post-rock titans” and throw out some bleh-standard write-up.
So allow me to draft a letter:
Dear Sam, Archer, Eric, and John,
Thanks for the effort. In return, here’s a soft “B” from an old friend.