"We've been accused of repeatedly making the same album," says Sam Prekop, leader of the Sea and Cake. Eight albums along, it's hard not to agree, but Prekop begs to differ. "If we felt like we were being redundant, we would quit," he counters. "We each feel that there is plenty left for us to say."
Perhaps it is the fine line between repetition and a distinctive sound—for the Sea and Cake that would be jaunty rhythms, breathy lyrics more melodically spoken than sung, jazzy guitars, and recordings (courtesy of Tortoise's John McEntire, who drums as well) that are as crisp as the tighty-whiteys your mother laid out for you this morning. The band's latest, Car Alarm, is good, but it doesn't distinguish itself as a departure from, or improvement upon, their previous work.
Formed in the early '90s, the Sea and Cake chose delicately complex textures and rhythms while their peers were outdoing each other upping the decibels. "When I first started playing, we were completely outside of that loop," Prekop recalls. "It was exciting to be one of the first ones to start to play different stuff." Car Alarm, like its predecessors, is full of tightly crafted songs incorporating a host of post- and pre-rock influences ranging from King Sunny Adé and reggae to Robert Fripp, the Velvet Underground, and David Byrne, all of which guided them from the onset.
There is a cerebral quality to the music. It's very compartmentalized and approached with a methodical creativity that relies more on intellectual curiosity than emotional catharsis. The best hooks are as likely to be found in an instrumental section as in a vocal chorus. Yet there is a payoff in each song, usually at the end, when the band vamps on an instrumental outro riff. Prekop and guitarist Archer Prewitt's strings intertwine through sonic explorations on top of the syncopated patterns. The combination of repetition and improvisation supplies the magic that can occur when a band explores, even within its own sound.