Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Sea and Cake. The Fawn (Thrill Jockey, 1997)

"I'm doing alright with just enough."

The Sea and Cake are part of the Chicago-based Thrill Jockey family of post-rock eggheads. Taking their band name from the Gastr del Sol song "The C in Cake," this foursome (Thrill Jockey man about town Sam Prekop on guitars and vocals, Windy City rhythmist extraordinaire and Tortoise staple John McEntire on drums, Eric Claridge on bass and synths, and Archer Prewitt on guitar, piano, and vocals) deal in smoothed-out, electronic tinged lounge pop spiced up with straight rock grooves. It's a pretty intoxicating brew, mainly because the Sea and Cake always include a heavy dose of hooks and head-bobbing beats in their semi-experimental concoctions, making everything go down real nice.

The Sea and Cake have been making soothing ear candy since '94, when their debut eponymous LP first surfaced. They've released eight full-lengths since then, the last of which, Car Alarm, came out in 2008. 1997's The Fawn is a great example of this band's particular charm, an extremely accomplished collection of irresistibly warm, jazz-informed future rock, catchy enough to make up for its pretensions, with charm and memorable melodies to spare. The overall result is a pleasantly sophisticated, nocturnal cityscape of an album, sparkling with just the right gloss-to-rock ratio.

Opening track The Sporting Life sets the tone right away, with a splendidly bubbling bassline and a wobbly synth track framing the tune, Prekop's spacey, semi-lethargic tenor acting as a sonic narcotic. The drum track is loose but driving, injecting subtle rhythmic flourishes to the song and adding to the layered, dense feel.

Things pick up significantly with "The Argument," triggered drum loops giving the song a skittering, hotfoot feel while the cyclical bass motif keeps everything going in circles. Album highlight The Fawn builds around a swaggering rhythm guitar, pouring on syrupy bass and crackling drums to create one of the LPs most hypnotic nod along numbers.

"Rossignol" is a lazily meandering melodic meditation, tethered earthward by a repetitive guitar line and quietly insistent kit work from McEntire, while "There You Are" bounces along amiably beneath its calm catchiness. Bird and Flag uses a swaggering cool Donald Byrd sample to craft gentle funk, Prekop's wistful lyrical delivery juxtaposed nicely with the street tough instrumental strut. Closer "Do Now Fairly Well" is a lovely lullaby, the soft drums tick-tocking and building occasionally to a quiet crash with the rest of the band before everything retreats back to a peaceful drift.

The Sea and Cake know what they're doing, and The Fawn is a top shelf auditory intoxicant, expensive and smooth. It's not too rocking, and isn't likely to get your heart rate up, but it'll always taste good. And it won't give you a hangover, guaranteed.