Artists On Albums: AOA#28 (The Sea And Cake’s Sam Prekop on Ralf And Florian)

The Sea And Cake’s Sam Prekop on…

Kraftwerk’s Ralf And Florian (Philips/Vertigo, 1973)

Kraftwerk – Ralf And Florian

I’m not sure when would have been the first time I heard this record; I suspect mid-nineties, when The Sea And Cake were becoming a band.  I’m quite sure that it was John McEntire who illuminated Kraftwerk for me beyond Computer World – which I had been familiar with as a kid and as a likely soundtrack for art school parties I would have frequented – but via Ralf And Florian was my introduction to Krautrock proper.  Neu!, Cluster, Faust, Harmonia were the canon, to me at least, at the time somewhat impenetrable and smacked a wee bit of music that would prove to be ‘good for you’ – the right records to be name checked and noted as avant-rock ground work.  Certainly not dismissing these records but the Ralf And Florian record really spoke to me and felt so wildly alien and still so casually beautiful.

There’s a wonderful loose-ends quality that permeates these pieces that it seems as though Kraftwerk has subsequently dismissed.  How they’re able to ignore this record as part of their oeuvre is baffling to say the least.  It’s a record that documents a band that doesn’t want to know where it’s going; a drift blissful.  It’s been thought by some that Kraftwerk are merely messing about in the studio with some new equipment, greatness in waiting.  What could be better in my opinion; evidence of exploration and invention fueled by intuition is what I’m up for.  This record was made at a juncture soon to be eclipsed by premeditated tropes.

I’ll admit this record rises to the top for me based pretty much solely on side two.  Side one is excellent but in my mind feels as though it could have come from one of the ‘road cone’ records [AKA Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2]. Nothing shabby about that, but “Tanzmusik” and “Ananas Symphonie” feel different, a real bridge across two phases, this in-betweenness I commend. “Tanzmusik” is a sort of proto-ambient work that somehow feels like a re-imagined Albert Ayler composition, elemental, even ‘folky’ dare I say, as the handful of chords are examined. The notes gently bounce in and out of time, the timbre in flux just so, handmade.  There’s a beautiful asymmetrical quality of the scale exposed, just the right side of pretty and a bum piano note near the end makes the whole thing better, smacking of a first take.  “Ananas Symphonie,” the final and longest track, is just so wonderful. Despite its perhaps suspect ‘exotic’ ambitions, its travelogue qualities are really quite endearing. I love how Ralf and Florian somehow couldn’t resist embracing the pseudo Hawaiian trajectory of the whole thing; slide guitar with synth waves, bobbing bass notes, sweet and sour long days.  It’s a marvel that they were able to sustain this query for so long, no fatigue, seemingly effortless. The rare combination of humor and melancholia is cosmic here. My favorite Kraftwerk track of all…

Notes On The Artist:

Sam Prekop

Chicago-dweller Sam Prekop has had a rich, long and varied career as an art-pop explorer.  Between 1985 and 1993 Prekop co-led the pioneering and rabidly eclectic Shrimp Boat (from whose catalogue 1992’s Duende and 1993’s Cavale albums make for essential listening, along with 2004’s gargantuan Something Grand boxset on AUM Fidelity).  Since 1994 Prekop has been a grandee of the Thrill Jockey family tree through The Sea And Cake and as a solo artist.

To date, through Thrill Jockey, Prekop has captained The Sea And Cake – which also features ex-Coctails member Archer Prewitt, Tortoise’s John McEntire and ex-Shrimp Boat colleague Eric Claridge – across nine acclaimed studio LPs and three low-key EPs; with 1994’s The Sea And Cake and 1997’s The Fawn being the true cream of the former grouping and 2011’s The Moonlight Butterfly being the pick of the latter.  As a solo trader Prekop has released a trio of long-players, with 1999’s eponymous debut being a sumptuous and timeless jazz-tinged classic cut in collaboration with members of the Chicago Underground Duo and Town & Country, day-job bandmate Prewitt and the maverick Jim O’Rourke.

Outside of his regular band and solo operations, Prekop has also lent his talents to Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record (released in 2010) and Laetitia Sadier’s second post-Stereolab solo LP Silencio (from earlier this year).  Beyond the musical world, Prekop is also a respected and exhibited painter and photographer.  Many of Prekop’s albums with The Sea And Cake and under his own name are currently being reissued on vinyl as part of Thrill Jockey’s 20th Anniversary celebrations.  Most importantly though, The Sea And Cake’s buoyant and diverse new album, Runner, is freshly available on the same label with a lengthy tour already scheduled to support it.

The Sea And Cake – “Harps” (from Runner)

The Sea And Cake – “Up On The North Shore” (from 2011’s Moonlight Butterfly)

Sam Prekop – “The Silhouettes” (from 2010’s Old Punch Card)