The Sea and Cake – Everybody

The Sea and Cake

It’s a little harsh, but true, to say that The Sea And Cake creatively-peaked with 1997’s The Fawn, the band’s fourth long-player. Subsequent albums – namely 2000’s Oui and 2003’s One Bedroom – have merely consolidated, refined and formularised the lush grooves and unconsciously-streamed songwriting of The Fawn, rather than progressing things to an even higher plane. Such stagnation has been seen as a tad tiresome, especially for those waiting through the increasingly long gaps between full-length releases. It could be said that Sam Prekop and compadres have been abusing a prime position in the Thrill Jockey family tree, exploring their myriad of extracurricular activities (solo records, collaborations, other bands, production work, painting, photography et al.) when it suites them, whilst returning to The Sea And Cake mothership just regularly enough to solicit a quick buck on the back of their prior reputation for art-pop invention. Contrarily and less cynically of course, The Sea And Cake could be seen to have fairly earned their comfort zone and have admirably avoided artificially-forced reinvention for the sake of itself. After all, had the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Johnny Cash stuck to anti-fashion impulses in the 1980s, everyone could have been spared from a slew of dated and dismal entries in their discographies. It’s a debate that won’t be resolved in a hurry and this seventh Sea And Cake collection only clouds the conundrum further.

On some levels Everybody is the most ‘radical’ sounding Sea And Cake set in years, even if the sonic shifts are more superficial than seismic. For starters, farming-out most of the production duties to Brian Paulson (erstwhile studio aide to Slint and Wilco), after a month of pre-recording rehearsals, has given the group back some organic fluidity and flexibility, especially with John McEntire concentrating on live drums instead of programmed percussion and in-house knob-twiddling responsibilities. There are some instrumental changes too, as the foursome stretch out a bit beyond trademarked meshes of treated electric guitars, blurry keyboards and nimble back-beats. Thus, seldom-heard acoustic guitars swim to the surface on the ear-catching opener “Up On Crutches”, pedal steel from guest Ken Champion adds depth to the plaintive “Transparent”, Eric Claridge cuts some beefier bass slices on the Krautrock-styled standout “Exact To Me” and everyone locks into an almost filthy wig-out on “Left On”, with Prekop and Archer Prewitt’s guitars contorting into some uncharacteristically ugly but stirring shapes. Overall, there’s a sense that Everybody is much more the product of a collective effort – like the quartet’s Nassau and The Biz LPs released in 1995 – than merely a Sam Prekop creation fleshed-out by his simpatico bandmates, as has often seemed the case in recent years.

From another angle however, Everybody is still unmistakably a latter-day Sea And Cake affair. Whilst there has been a little external redecoration, many core elements remain in the band’s unchangeable centre of gravity. Prekop’s vocals are as nonchalantly smooth as ever, which will keep faithful followers reassured if somewhat unchallenged. Prekop’s painterly lyrics continue to be defiantly abstract and it’s slightly sad that he’s still estranged from the memorable, albeit surrealist, chorus/verse structures that he used so effectively on early Sea And Cake ‘hits’ like “Jacking The Ball”, “Parasol” and “The Argument”. Musically too, the group retain a strong fondness for drawing-in unobtrusive electronica (“Too Strong” and “Lightning”), agile mid-tempo post-funk (“Crossing Line” and “Coconut”) and lithe laidback jazz-shimmering (“Introducing”). Whilst intransigent self-indulgence will, it seems, forever hold-back The Sea And Cake from any more magnanimous glories, there aren’t many musicians who can do this stuff better or with as much ingrained intuition, as Everybody exemplifies.

Everybody is in no way the revolution-in-the-head this scribe could have hoped for, but then he never truly expected one. The happy fact that the collection does at least bend some of The Sea And Cake’s own rigidified rules, will cunningly keep these four stubborn but subliminally-connected souls running on good faith and carefree craftsmanship for a good few years yet.