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CD Review: THE Sea & Cake

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Thrill Jockey; Release date: May 8, 2007

The Deal: First record in four years continues the Chicago band's pop evolution.

The Good: Throughout the '90s, The Sea & Cake tended to sound like Tortoise with lyrics. Characterized by the same deep rhythmic grooves molded by drummer extraordinaire -- and founding Tortoise member -- John McEntire, S&C's enigmatic mix of jazz-pop, Krautrock and subtle electronica were supplemented by Sam Prekop's breathy, blue-eyed soul vocals and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. But beginning with 2000's Oui, S&C's songs got shorter and the groove got lighter as Prekop's pop inclinations took center stage. The new blueprint relied more on the sinuous, mobius strip-like guitar lines of Prekop and Archer Prewitt, six-stringers who typically opted for complex chords over simple pop constructions. Still, this is the most straightforward S&C recording yet, with most of the lazy summer songs coming in well under 4 minutes. Only the Benga-flavored "Exact to Me" and driving, synth-accented "Left On" recall S&C's earlier incarnation; they're also Everybody's most compelling songs.

The Bad: The Sea & Cake were once like jam-band music for the indie set, with crisp hypnotic grooves that kept the songs from the aimless noodling, excess, and lack of musical discipline so typical of the patchouli sniffers. Their new, tighter approach feels more measured and less substantial. McEntire, once such an integral element, is no longer the heartbeat; the band even turned to Triangle veteran Brian Paulson for production, marking the first time in 13 years McEntire wasn't in the control booth.

The Verdict: Entirely dependent on which incarnation of the band you prefer.

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