The Sea and Cake and Califone

I've been going back and forth on One Bedroom, the new album from Chicago's the Sea and Cake, for weeks now. On one hand it's the sleekest collection of digitally enhanced pop songs I'll probably hear this year (unless Liz Phair really makes a go at Avril Lavigne on her upcoming return to recording, anyway); singer Sam Prekop's sleepy whisper floats right above his bandmates' heartbeat-steady grooves, which riffle through textures like a second-grader in art class. But I've not gotten much out of the disc that I didn't get from Oui or The Fawn, the two equally sumptuous S&C efforts that preceded it. "I personally don't believe that one needs to take a real extreme tack as a reaction against your last album, or to appease a listening crowd," guitarist Archer Prewitt countered a couple of weeks ago. "I think it's more important to serve the music in the way that seems right for the music." I'm pretty sure I agree, so I'll sleep on One Bedroom a little longer.

Given the consistency of the Cake dudes' catalog, it's an unexpected pleasure to find them touring with fellow Chicagoans Califone, possibly that city's most dedicated shapeshifters. The group's new Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, its first album for Thrill Jockey after releases on its own Perishable Records, plays like the white man's reimagining of late Los Lobos: Banjos and guitars and other string instruments wander around, occasionally pooling in proper songs, while keyboards and a whole mess of percussive elements descend from above and keep things feeling improvisatory. It's a bewitching piece of music, and should only sound more idiosyncratic onstage.

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Mikael Wood