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The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm

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Artist: The Sea and Cake

Album: Car Alarm

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Oct. 24, 2008

While there’s nothing particularly wrong on the last few Sea and Cake albums, their existence seems somewhat tangential. I’ve heard them, and I’m sure I liked them, but specific songs or albums rarely prove memorable, with the exception of 1997’s The Fawn. Rather, it’s been their stylistic distinctness that always remains with me; it’s not so much that Sea and Cake create songs and albums, but rather that Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt have a sound they’re rather enamored with and are just happy to use that as the palpable stuff with which to craft the music out of (as opposed to say, the tactility of the music following from the composition).

Car Alarm feels different, though. What’s difficult to figure out, however, is whether that’s merely a feeling or whether there’s something actually, appreciably novel about the album. It’s difficult because it would be extremely easy to make some blanket pronouncement about the mechanics of these songs: "The Sea and Cake have really done it this time, chaps. They’ve crafted songs that don’t deviate dramatically from their earlier material, but zowie! The hooks!" To try and say something objective like this, though is to enter the domain of the fraudulent, of the 1920s dustbowl huckster embellishing the effects of some elixir to a bunch of rubes. This album hits me in a distinctive way, but someone with less of a stake in Car Alarm could just as likely dismiss it as "another Sea and Cake album."

If there is any difference at all, it’s perhaps a social one: a way the band is organized and the way that organization is translated or concretized into their music. The standard modus operandi for the group is to tour after each album and then go their separate ways, concentrating on their individual projects and eventually finding their way back to the Sea and Cake whenever it feels right. Car Alarm, however, was recorded immediately after touring. Prekop et al never had to reacquaint themselves with each other, which perhaps accounts for the way previous albums felt like the result of a slow winding back and the way this one does not. This is like the difference between writing an essay for an audience that has a deep knowledge of the subject at hand and writing an essay for an audience with a general knowledge. When one writes for a specific group, there are certain fundamentals that can be taken for granted, things that need not be said because they’re already known, things which one would have to painstakingly lay out for the novices. Car Alarm is the result of the former. Since there was no period of re-initiation, the fundamentals have already been dealt with. With that out of the way, it has allowed the Sea and Cake to perhaps say something novel.

By Andrew Beckerman

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