Cake Walk

Sam Prekop and The Sea and Cake may have a plan, but that doesn't make anything easier

"Afternoon Speaker," the first track from Oui, is galloping and sprightly--the bouncy, melodic side of The Sea and Cake. "The Colony Room" is pleasant with its tight, rhythmic groove and brushed percussion sounding like sharp, fine rain on metal. "The Leaf" is trademark McEntire--bouncing Brazilian-style marimba, warm electric guitar, a slow, methodical, Tortoise-like invention. "Everyday" is like a Sunday afternoon or a casual walk through the park. It features a chiming marimba (one of the most compelling reasons to listen to this music) and soft lyrics to match: "Balance has taken so long/So long, try not to wander/So long, falling not to get up, everyday/Try me so tender/The last time it's so nice to get there."

"I Missed the Glance," the album's final track, starts off with McEntire's bossa nova drumming and almost Far Eastern-style strings, but eventually it slides into a lethargic, warbly groove. Prewitt's wah-wah guitar moves in and out like waves washing the shore. On "Glance," Prekop wonders, "Sleeping the days away, why suffer?"

The album's aesthetic is escapist in general, from its palm tree cover photograph (shot by Prekop in Australia) to the singer's vague, distant lyrics. Everything about Oui is somehow looming on the horizon, like a faint mirage, or the fragile remnants of a balmy dream.

Prekop confirms somewhat tongue-in-cheek that with Oui the "theme was to keep it lean." Mission accomplished. It's obvious that The Sea and Cake work within their own criteria, responding to the subtle nuances of each other rather than making a grand social statement or trying to emulate a particular music scene. This may account for their faithful consistency to form over the years and albums; even the first album doesn't sound like a debut because almost every recording since has followed suit. With most outfits, there's an obvious progression (or regression). That's the funny thing about The Sea and Cake: They're consistent almost to a fault. In fact, Prekop's description of his paintings (such as the one adorning the cover of his 1999 eponymous solo album) is just as fitting for his music: small, neat, uniform.

"My paintings are in some ways, someone might say, they're all the same painting. They're almost always the same orientation," Prekop says. "There are variations, but thematically they're very similar. Even though they're geometric, I would consider them atmospheric. I like to think of them as kind of automatic inventions--almost like doodling on a bigger scale. I sort of output a lot of ideas and at different stages deal with what happened at that point, then sort of react to a certain degree."

In the same manner, the members of The Sea and Cake react to each other musically.

"We usually try to in some respects keep it as open as possible as we're working," Prekop explains of the group's songwriting process. "There's not some grand idea that we're looking to accomplish because otherwise I think that would be sort of like one-liners. After doing it so long we're aware and conscious of the language that we deal in, so there's always the challenge that we don't get lazy. We usually try to 'up the ante' in some way. As you get better, it seems harder to keep it interesting. We've lucked out by starting out not trying to do anything super specifically, and being as true to what we know how to do and get better at that thing as much as possible."

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