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Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor

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Artist: Sam Prekop

Album: Who's Your New Professor

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 3, 2005

Sam Prekop was born cursed, born with his aesthetics fully in tact and developed. The first instance of his voice, 40 years ago in a Chicago hospital, was already soft and grafted from lucent tracing paper. He developed naturally, listened to his father's jazz records, ate fine food and fell in love a couple of times. His artistic style, both on canvas and on record, was immediately recognizable as his own. The reviews of his god-given talents started to come in. His voice was "high and lazy,” his music "a tempest of pastels,” his paintings a combination of UPA-styled backdrops and a euphoric-sort-of-melancholy, the kind of thing people called "wistfulness.”

He's made a dozen albums. There were a couple by Shrimp Boat and then came a bunch from the Sea & Cake, and there was a solo album five years ago that presented the definitive Prekop. Sam Prekop served as a synthesis of all of the nascent floating ideas in Shrimp Boat and the Sea & Cake, and stands as Prekop's masterpiece. All of Prekop's trademarked artistry finally found the right venue, the perfect fit. This was a presentation of himself, without hiding behind the apparent democratic collaboration of his band work (although you can't really imagine the album without its supporting cast, and the absence of Jim O'Rourke is certainly felt on Prekop's newest album). The album is a private intimation of Prekop's life, equivalent to the golden age of singer-songwriters where the candid portrait photo on the album cover was constructed as a reflection of the material within. If that's Jimmy Webb's face, then the inside of the record must be his body and soul. Yet Prekop didn't appear on the cover, rather it was one of his paintings, a geometric abstraction of a cityscape that more than a few construed as Chicago. After all, that was the essential feeling of the album: Prekop's personal confessions superimposed on a handmade brochure for his city.

Who's Your New Professor is Prekop's first attempt in five years to recapture what he also must know was his brightest musical moment. Yet, its almost as if there's no way for him to succeed or fail. The appeal of his work is partially due to its distinct familiarity and comfort, with the self-titled Prekop album succeeding specifically because there could've been a million others just like it, like the uneven "non-repeating tessellations" that grace his artwork. There is such a constructed sense of simplicity to Prekop's work (a lyrical mention of forgetting his keys, for instance) that his work seems to merely peer into his days, belying what is obviously careful craftsmanship. Prekop could have a song for every single day of his life.

So, if you can't win or lose, where does the new album fit in relation to the self-titled album? The most explainable differences are immediately visible by comparing the album covers. The self-titled album has a light blue background, and a crop of little geometrical buildings in the right-hand corner that are painted with a homogeneous color palette reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud's food paintings. The abstraction is increased on Who's Your New Professor. There is a harder-edged green that fills up the sky, the bulk of the image still suggestive of a cityscape, this time a black and white collage assembled with a bold, sans serif font that sometimes serves geometrically and sometimes spells discernibly, "every direction" and "Wednesday" being the most easily apparent. The inside sleeve has a photograph taken inside of a forest, suggesting a naturalism within the more abrasive and synthetic confines of the cover. The music sufficiently agrees. More abrasive and alien textures appear on Who's Your New Professor, synthesizers, distorted guitars, and more driven drumming by Chad Taylor give the album a slightly more electric feel than the hazier predecessor.

Still, for Prekop, these changes are in vain. His artistic voice is so firmly in place, nothing can really alleviate the warm lethargy of his records. More apparent than his subtle experiments with a different musical direction, however, is a noted emphasis on the lyrics. They're almost comprehensible this time around. Prekop says in an interview that on Professor, the music was written after the lyrics, instead of his usual working method. This manifests in a slightly more sophisticated, concrete feeling. This record has an underlying confidence; the CD is eggshell blue, rather than the white cream color of the self-titled disc.

Ultimately, there is little to be said. Despite what appears to be a decided attempt to branch out musically, Prekop returns with a slight variation on the same theme that has seemed to follow him around since birth. Luckily, for fans of Prekop's work, progress and self-redefinition has hardly been the point. Who's Your New Professor is another short and sweet chapter, another brief, escapist daydream and is laudable for being so precisely that.

By Matt Wellins

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