The Sea And Cake – The Moonlight Butterfly

The Sea And Cake - The Moonlight Butterfly

Although it’s perhaps too late into a 20 or so year existence to expect a radical sonic renaissance for The Sea And Cake, long-term followers have at least been holding out for a little more of the diversity and democracy that made the band a genuine art-pop ‘supergroup’ in the 1990s.  Whilst this new 6-song mini-album is still aesthetically sealed inside sleek latter-day Sea And Cake production values, it does finally break more distinctively from the patterns set since 2000’s Oui, after some fleeting outside-the-box flirtations on 2007’s Everybody and 2008’s Car Alarm.

By reawakening the foursome’s distinctive yet harmonious individual talents, The Moonlight Butterfly is possibly the most alluring, varied and engaging release from the group since 1997’s The Fawn. No doubt helped by its shorter overall running time, there is more focus on making the six tracks stand-up as set-pieces, rather than letting them get lost in the crowd of a longer-player.

Most crucially, there is less over-reliance on the rhythmic guitar interplay between Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt, as the opening “Covers” testifies.  With warm washing waves of electronics and more room for Eric Claridge’s bobbing bass and John McEntire’s meticulous but free-limbed drums, “Covers” does happily recall the blissfulness of The Fawn. The ensuing “Lyric” continues this more open and layered arrangement approach, adding more fizzing – but fitting – synthetic ingredients.  The captivating midpoint of the wordless title-track even drops traditional guitar-bass-drums triangulation altogether, for a glistening analogue synthscape, that builds on both the brief “CMS Sequence” from Car Alarm and the more melodic ends of Prekop’s minimalist 2010 solo LP, Old Punch Card.

After such an elemental deconstruction, “Up On The North Shore” brings things back into more familiar guitar-led groove territory together with Prekop’s most expressive vocals of the whole set.  However, the sublime ten minute “Inn Keeping” stretches things out again further into lesser trodden territory.  Taking many of the subtle components stirred-up on the preceding four tracks, “Inn Keeping” uses its length to let the band uncoil, unfurl and unfold across a balmy expanse.  Once again, vintage synths provide a focal point, around which steady but laidback rhythms revolve and Prekop’s diaphanous tones drift across, extending into a gorgeous and gradually layer-peeling coda that justifies the prog-like duration.  In its wake, the electro-acoustic and jazz-flecked “Monday” rounds things off as a hazily-played cousin to something from Prekop’s still timeless first solo LP.

Naturally, The Moonlight Butterfly won’t allow The Sea And Cake to set the world on fire but with its reviving studio craftsmanship and exploratory attitude, it should happily smoulder in the ears of those who needed the band to deliver something just a little to the left of a self-defined centre.

Thrill Jockey

The Sea And Cake – “Up On The North Shore”
http://downloads.pitchforkmedia.com/The Sea And Cake – Up On The North Shore.mp3