Sea And Cake


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Shrimp Boat: Speckly , 6/10
Shrimp Boat: Duende , 7/10
Shrimp Boat: Cavale , 6/10
Sea And Cake , 7/10
Nassau , 6.5/10
The Biz , 5/10
The Fawn , 6/10
Oui , 6/10
Archer Prewitt: In The Sun , 6.5/10
Archer Prewitt: White Sky , 5/10
Archer Prewitt: Gerroa Songs , 5/10
Archer Prewitt: Three , 6/10
Archer Prewitt: Wilderness (2005), 6.5/10
Sam Prekop: Sam Prekop , 6.5/10
Sam Prekop: Who's Your New Professor? (2005), 5/10
One Bedroom , 5/10
Everybody (2007), 6/10
Car Alarm (2008), 6/10
Sam Prekop: Old Punch Card (2010) , 5/10
Sam Prekop: Pavilion (2013), 4/10
Sam Prekop: The Republic (2015), 5/10
Sam Prekop: Comma (2020), 5/10
Sam Prekop: Sons Of (2022), 5/10
Sam Prekop: The Sparrow (2022), 5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Shrimp Boat was the band of vocalist Sam Prekop and for a while it was one of Chicago's best kept secrets. Prekop's penchant for latin and jazz music and the band's impressive counterpoint recalled the heydays of progressive-rock and the jagged art-punk of Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Volume 1 (Specimen Products, 1991) collects the early works.

Speckly (Specimen Products, 1989 - AUM Fidelity, 2005) and especially Duende (bar/None, 1992), recorded in 1990 with Brad Wood on drums, turned the latin/jazz influence into a wicked vice that Prekop's voice knew how to tame. Bouncing from free-jazz (Tartar's Mark) to lullabies (Bumble Bees), and aping the freak-folk of Camper Van Beethoven (New Song Waltz, Jing Jing, the instrumental Back To The Ukraine), Shrimpt Boat never sounded obvious and never gave in to normality. The three-cd box-set Something Grand (AUM, 2004) collects rare and live material.

The experiment became seriously challenging with the complex, elaborate harmonies of Cavale (Bar None, 1993). The sprightly Pumpkin Lover opens the album, but it hardly represents what follows. The core of the album is a set of ballads with horn section that coin a weird fusion of sweet soul, southern rock and rhythm and blues (Line Song, What Do You Think Of Love). The funky Dollar Bill and the doleful singalong Creme Brulee reinvent this style while it is being invented.
The band serves also more traditional (and humurous) fare like Duende Suite and Swinging Shell. But the highlight of the album is a Lou Reed-ian number, both ironic and apocalyptic: Oranges.

The band was capable of playing for three or four hours in a small club in front of a very small audience. The playing was impeccable and the attitude was punk.

Prekop resurfaced in Sea And Cake, helped by guitarist Archer Prewitt of the Coctails and drummer John McEntire of Tortoise. Sea And Cake (Thrill Jockey, 1994) is even more experimental than Shrimp Boat ever was. The drunk and sleepy delivery of the leader is matched by a low-key, laid-back soundscape of jazz and soul. Sea And Cake sound like Steely Dan (or Everything But The Girl) playing a Lou Reed tune.

Nassau (Thrill Jockey, 1995) expands on those ideas by leveraging sumptuous keyboards arrangements. The emotional excursion is broader: the Farfisa-driven Nature Boy is a joyful ditty, while the cello-accented Parasol is a depressed dirge.

The Biz (Thrill Jockey, 1995) sounds like an inferior repetition of the same concepts, performed with traditional instruments. The technical prowess is clearly improving, but somehow it detracts from the inspiration.

The conversion to electronica that took place with The Fawn (Thrill Jockey, 1997), propelled by sequencers and drum machines, led to a mellower and more polished version of the band. Besides being terribly cold, the new course increased the addiction to soul, funk, latin and pop.

The solo career of Sea And Cake's guitarist Archer Prewitt began with In The Sun (Carrot Top, 1997), a collection of fragile soul-pop embellished with chamber arrangements (Good Man, Rush Hour, City Ride). Cardinal's influence is even stronger on the lush orchestral arrangements of White Sky (Carrot Top, 1999). Todd Rundgren and Van Dyke Parks would be proud of his Final Season and Summer's End. Gerroa Songs (Carrot Top, 2000) continues this trend towards mellow, mininal, timid and relaxed easy-listening (particularly the instrumentals).
Three (Thrill Jockey, 2002) completes Prewitt's "maturation" as a pop arranger. By fusing Electric Light Orchestra's art of the melodic hook and Steely Dan's art of the lounge atmosphere, Prewitt comes up with impeccable nuggets such as Gifts of Love, Over the Line, Tear Me All Away. In the lengthy, elaborate I'm Coming Over, No Defense, Behind the Sun and Sister Ice, Prewitt outlines a more sophisticated version of this craft, that borders on Canterbury's progressive-rock but does not quite match the ethereal zietgeist.

Prewitt's Wilderness (Thrill Jockey, 2005) is a more intimate collection that capitalizes on the experiments of its predecessor. The songs stretch and shrink, frequently violating the canon of the pop song, while at the same time maintaining a dignified posture and an organic feeling. A few rank among his most touching experiences (Way of the Sun, Go Away, Leaders).

Sam Prekop (Thrill Jockey, 1999), the debut album of Sea And Cake's singer, recorded with help from Jim O'Rourke, and John McEntire, offered a unique and seductive blend of jazz-rock and bossanova. Prekop's second solo, Who's Your New Professor? (Thrill Jockey, 2005), is a collection of spare melancholy pop-jazz ballads (Density).

Returning after the two leaders' solo ventures, the Sea And Cake produced a useless album, Oui (Clearspot, 2000). Useless since it merely repeats things they already said in the previous albums, mainly the feasibility of a genre at the border of sensual soul, drowsy jazz and robotic pop (Everyday, Two Dolphins, Seemingly). It does so with less daring imagination although with a classier, almost aristocratic touch (bordering on the madrigal in You Beautiful Bastard).

Even more elegant at the outset, One Bedroom (Thrill Jockey, 2003) soon reveals its modest ambitions and even more modest results. This orchestral jazzy easy-listening, disguised as post-rock via rhythmic patterns and disorienting sound effects, is neither original anymore or entertaining yet. Left Side Clouded, Four Corners, Shoulder Length and Hotel Tell stand out.

Glass (Thrill Jockey, 2003) collects remixes.

Everybody (Thrill Jockey, 2007), wisely coming after a four-year hiatus, restored some confidence in the Sea And Cake sound. Moving away from the intellectual easy-listening muzak that the quartet (Archer Prewitt, Sam Prekop, John McEntire, bassist Eric Claridge) had been refining since Fawn, the album provided a welcome detour into a more energetic kind of rock music (Up on Crutches, Crossing Line, Exact To Me, Middlenight). The Steely Dan comparison is unfair, as Sea And Cake has neither the obvious melodic center of mass nor the obvious dance-rhythmic scaffolding. Prekop's meticulous sound construction is probably negatively affected by McEntire's numerous distractions in other projects.

Car Alarm (2008) was a spontaneous free-flowing work that proved the class of the musicians, but veered ever closer to general-purpose lightweight muzak.

Prekop, also a painter and photographer, took a vacation from his intimate jazz-pop and devoted the mini-album Photographs (2007) and an entire album, Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey, 2010), to pay tribute to the pioneers of electronic music, playing synthesizer cacophony.

The Sea And Cake's mini-album The Moonlight Butterfly (Thrill Jockey, 2011) offered the usual polished pop muzak (notably the ten-minute Inn Keeping), but also a brief ambient electronic composition, The Moonlight Butterfly.

Sam Prekop continued his adventures into electronic music for analog synthesizer on Pavilion (2013), The Republic (2015) and Comma (2020), albums that sit somewhere between the Boards Of Canada and Oneohtrix Point Never.

Sam Prekop and John McEntire recorded the four-song Sons Of (2022) in that mellow electronic vein, only adding heavily danceable beats. The four lengthy pieces are variations on ambient techno, with Crossing at the Shallow being a bit more cosmic and sinister and Ascending by Night being more bombastic (and tedious). The 23-minute A Yellow Robe is an elegant suite of simple drum-beat, bubbling sequencer and synthesized strings that along the way introduces cute sound effects, but nothing groundbreaking, not even for a genre of limited breadth like ambient techno. Prekop's solo The Sparrow (2022) contains the 17-minute The Sparrow, which completed his backward journey towards the electronic new-age fantasias of the 1980s.

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