The Sea and Cake
nd so, in the year 1994, post-rock cast-offs Sam Prekop and Eric Claridge joined forces with Archer Prewitt and Tortoise head honcho drummer John McEntire to create a band that would go on to create some of the most timeless pop music of their time, The Sea and Cake.
I’ve never heard any other Sea and Cake albums, but from what I understand, they use a lot of math-roc/Krautk drumming, and have wistfully light arrangements with pop singalongs, jazzy rhythms, and a sort of deep, earthly soul from Prekop. Sounds cool. This album, from what I understand, is a culmination of those sort of things—but it sounds a little dancier and wonderfully happy to me.
My God, this is such a beautiful album. It’s hard to describe a record like this as a rock ‘n roll critic—most songs sound almost exactly the same, so it becomes hard to describe one song apart from the other. One has falsetto vocals, while one has the guitar pushed all the way up front, instead of the usual drums-on-top. Sometimes, this band just gets down and grooves—"Shoulder Length"—with a driving beat reminiscent of Big Beat in its uses of melodic squiggles and throbbing bass drum.
Going into this review, I had a different concept on how I would go about writing—that I would rely on throwing around ‘false dates’ to show to you, the reader, how this album is so timeless. That this sounds like futurepopmusik, with alien rhythms and a vocalist who seems to take equally from Mark. E Smith, Jeff Tweedy, and Jeff Buckley on top of it, fondly looking back at the vocalists of the past. That you could enjoy the album is 1832, where the lyrics about long-lost love or sparse orchestral overtones—a sort of insinuation of grand classical movements flow through the veins of this album (see "Hotel Tell," with highly subtle synthesized chords, and "Four Corners," which employs what sounds like a horn section under running water run backwards through time)—would grab the attention of a listener. That those keen of world-pop would enjoy the vaguely African rhythms or offbeat up-and-out syncopations, like a hiccuping on the beat, like in "One Bedroom."
Then, of course, I would close how in the year 2003, this album seems almost perfect—despite its lack of, well, trying anything remotely new—simply because it understand that it has so much to offer, and that, it makes for wonderful pop music in running its influences together for a breezy spring album, never heavy, always light.
Perfectly—or perhaps annoyingly—complementing the music, then, is Sam Prekop’s vocals, with a throaty falsetto, yes, a voice that reaches an upper register not quite there, almost like he’s dying, pushing out the very last notes in his body. Like a last gasp for life, his completely nonsensical bullshit lyrics, thankfully, aren’t pushed up front, but simply because part of the music—he understand this, and on a track like "Mr. F," his vocals are sent spinning off into an echo, simply part of the music.
This record may be instantly disposable—like any pop music, it is meant not to be some sort of landmark or, fuck, even mean anything important. I honestly don’t see myself listening to this album when summer’s over—but I will forever cherish the last track, a cover of Bowie’s "Sound and Vision." While Bowie’s was jumpy, a soul jive, reelin’ in the years with bloated saxes and confident vocals, the Sea and Cake turn it into a groove for the ages, with drum loops colliding over one another, the usually present minimal guitar of Prewitt sucked under the efficient, glitch-hop-like shuffle of McEntire and bassist Claridge. The vocals are suddenly approachable—King Bowie is now a humble servant, an approachable soul, isn’t it. And then, everything sways and beeps click and hop and snares fill and lord, this is nearly over. The album closes on a Kraut drone. Good for them.
Reviewed by: Sam Bloch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01