The Sea and Cake – Oui

The Sea and Cake are nothing if not predictable by this point, which isn’t really a bad thing. On this album, Oui, their fifth, they stick pretty close to home, which makes for an altogether pleasant listening. No ground is broken here, but that’s okay because they broke it on their first couple of albums. Now they’re just refining the sound.

Oui seems to land somewhere between their last album, The Fawn, and frontman Sam Prekop’s solo record. Gone are the over arching electronic sounds of The Fawn, but the feel is the same as Prekop’s solo record, if a little tighter. Where his solo record seemed to drift, this is definitely a together, tight band record.

It starts off with two rather upbeat songs, “Afternoon Speaker” and “All the Photos.” These lay in with drummer John McEntire’s (also of Tortoise and producer extraordinaire) on top of the beat drumming. He keeps things driving on these two songs.

Much of the rest of the record is that sort of smooth jazz-pop that The Sea and Cake do so well, just a bit more laid back than the first few songs. It’s pretty hard to pin down because it’s not really pop and its not really jazz. It is, however, very smooth and listenable. There might be a lack of outright hummable melodies, but that doesn’t really detract from the listening experience.

One nice thing about Oui is that many of the parts here that might have been played by keyboard or programmed in are played by live instruments. The sound is kept varied as marimba (McEntire makes his presence very obvious on the Tortoise sound-alike “The Leaf” with its cascading vibes), saxophones, flutes and bass clarinets all make appearances. There is even some nice, subtle strings on a few songs.

Oui will not blow your mind, but neither will it leave you in need of anything except perhaps some more viceral excitement. This album provides much in the way of intellectual excitement, though, with fresh arrangements and great group playing throughout. McEntire and bassist Eric Claridge (who plays some beautiful melodic bass lines here) make a great and solid rhythm section, while Prekop’s guitar and the second guitar of Archer Prewitt weave in and out to make a nice bed for Prekop’s whispered, soulful vocals. The Sea and Cake have definitely found their place and are refining their sound down to a science while retaining their spontaneity.