Two music critics, two wildly diverging opinions – let’s do this!
BY DAVID GREENBERGER &
At BLURT we understand that in
regards to music, all opinions are subjective. Certainly we can pretend to
divine the nuances of talent, inspiration and expression, but with the
exception of some of the basics – like, are the lyrics clear or incoherent; is
that E chord in the right place or should it actually be a B-flat, etc. – at
the end of the day, no one can really judge what’s a “good” record and a “bad”
record other than the listener.
Case in point: Chicago’s The Sea and Cake, who recently
issued their latest album Car Alarm on the esteemed Thrill Jockey label. Through a stroke of editorial serendipity
(okay, it was actually a screw-up of scheduling), we received not one but two
reviews of the record, and since those reviews represent dueling polarities, we
think it’s only fair and right that you, gentle readers, have an opportunity to
read both. On the one hand, a glowing “9” (out of ten stars) from ace scribe
David Greenberger; on the other, a niggling “5” from the unflappable Zach
Herrmann; somewhere in the middle, we suspect, resides an ultimate truth.
Luckily for the band, however, consumers don’t care about “ultimate truths.”
They just wanna know if it rocks. – The
The Sea and Cake
After a four year break in recordings,
the Sea and Cake’s eighth album comes on the heels of last year’s robust Everybody, again showcasing what a
supple and gently powerful ensemble they are.
With Sam Prekop’s quiet vocals
pushed to the fore, attention is at first diverted from the powerful engine
that’s flying him down the road. The roiling exuberance of the band’s rhythmic
drive is subtly disguised, as if camouflaged. Like a painting that refuses to
offer a narrative, their music is rife with alluring riddles and questions. The
rewards they offer are unique to each listener’s response.
Full of human pulsing, the Sea
and Cake show that measured, considered approaches to creating songs can be as
emotionally rich as overtly demonstrative avenues – or even more. Bottom line:
this is a potent band at their finest.
Standout Tracks: “On A Letter,” “Window Sills” DAVID GREENBERGER
The Sea and Cake
There’s a certain point where musical consistency and
reliability begets stagnancy. By album number eight, the overbearingly mild Car Alarm, The Sea and Cake has become
like clockwork. Every arrangement is smooth, like a planned daydream on an
office elevator ride – the instrumentation familiar and right on the money. The
imagination is barely there, dulled by years of repetition.
Always a far less interesting endeavor than drummer John
McEntire’s Tortoise, The Sea and Cake has long since abandoned the lo-fi edge
of its earlier work (namely Nassau).
“Aerial” opens with everything in sharp focus, Sam Prekop’s untainted, breathy
vocals up front and center.
The band (thankfully) goes a little off course with Prekop’s
guitar work on “New Schools”, but even the spacey, fuzzed-out solos sound a bit
too sterile to really shake things up. Kicking out the MOR-jams like a tortoise
on valium wears thin pretty quickly, and so we get two throwaway ambient New
Age-y instrumentals (“CMS Sequence”, “Mirrors”) tossed in the mix, presumably
to break up the pace or at least cue the listener into breaks between similar
Oddly enough, the band chose the latter track to end the
album, a whimpering end to a series of barely distinguishable whispers. Even if
you have bought into the dubious claims of The Sea and Cake as a genre-bending
factory, pumping out one brilliant work after another, Car Alarm sticks out as the group’s biggest snoozer to date.
Taken on a track by track basis, there’s nothing
particularly awful on album. But from one step back, the whole affair is just
way too easy to ignore.
Standout Tracks: Who can tell ’em apart?!? ZACHARY HERRMANN