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The Sea and Cake - Glass

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Artist: The Sea and Cake

Album: Glass

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: May. 4, 2003

Mirrors and Echoes

A swirling, layered twist of the Sea and Cake’s sound, Glass is both a refraction and a reflection of the band, alternately defining their music perfectly and subtly tearing it apart. By now, the elements of a Sea and Cake song are well known: tight, deft percussion by John McEntire; cold, jazz-derived guitar work from Archer Prewitt; and Sam Prekop’s airy, distanced vocals, drained of emotion but full of color. Earlier albums were heavier on the synths and electronics; albums like Oui explored various jazz possibilities. However, for a band so heavily involved in sonic detail and nuance, theirs is a notoriously difficult sound to pin down. This is partly because the Sea and Cake, for all of their consistency, work at creating an ever-evolving elaboration of the ideas and sounds that drive what they make. Glass is both an extension of this and a self-reflexive comment on the practice.

Opener “To the Author” is a bouncy, angular mix of chunky synth textures and slacker guitar. After a piercing slide guitar line, it abruptly segues into an electro keyboard loop as Prekop sings in his usual style, melodic and emotionally opaque. It’s easily one of the most compelling, sonically complex songs that Sea and Cake have produced, with a harder, more electronic sound than some of their more recent material. Immediately following this track is another version of the same song, this time focusing on Prekop’s singing and a more hollow, echo-filled atmosphere. If a record can be said to have an idea at its heart, than the central notion of Glass is choice. The Sea and Cake suffer from an enduring criticism, that their music is essentially the same from album to album. On one level, this isn’t entirely wrong. The basic elements of their songs are generally consistent, and their music is usually instantly recognizable. But this is partly missing the point. Within the basic palette of song structures and styles that the band makes use of, there is a world of sound that is capable of producing vastly different responses in the listener. Thus, with the two versions of “To the Author,” the listener is made acutely aware of the dozens of production choices that result in starkly different songs. This idea is extended dramatically by the three remixes on the EP, provided by Stereolab, Broadcast, and Carl Craig. What’s most intriguing about these tracks (all taken from One Bedroom) is that they sound remarkably like the music of the remixers, and often bear little resemblance to the Sea and Cake original. It’s a reminder that the Sea and Cake are an immensely malleable band, and I mean that as a compliment. The sounds they make are intended to be processed and altered, as they are part of an ongoing experiment.

Part of what makes the Sea and Cake such a fascinating band is that they don’t simply use fancy production techniques to embellish their songs; the production is the song. It’s almost impossible to imagine a “stripped-down” version of a Sea and Cake number, with John McEntire slapping a tambourine and Archer Prewitt casually strumming an acoustic. The band seems intent on creating a collision of strange and improbable sounds in order to give the illusion of a rather simple pop song, but the result is a bizarre, hollow imitation of a pop song, leaving the listener simultaneously wowed and slightly uneasy. While the crossed signals of a Sea and Cake song make for difficult categorization, it’s what keeps them interesting. A group fixed on restless aesthetic experimentation, the two versions of “To the Author” are as much for them as they are for us, a challenge to pull another rabbit out of the same hat. On Glass, the Sea and Cake make music that’s as beguiling as ever, while displaying an odd sense of humor and implying that their best collection of sounds may still lie ahead.

By Jason Dungan

Other Reviews of The Sea and Cake

One Bedroom


Car Alarm

The Moonlight Butterfly


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