For a decade and a half, Chicago’s The Sea and Cake have given an accessible and pop-flavored face to post-rock, mixing up jazzy textures and subtle electronics with simpler, catchy structures that go down a bit easier than the convoluted experiments of many of their contemporaries, or even the side projects of its own members. Eric Claridge, John McEntire, Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt have a long and impressive track record of solid, pretty, if sometimes same-y, albums, each one yielding glossy, atmospheric pleasures and the occasional fun surprise, such as their cover of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” from 2003’s One Bedroom. For their eighth album, Everybody, there is one definite surprise in store for listeners, that being that this is the band’s most strongly rock influenced album, as distortion has taken up residence where much of their blippy, glitchy experimentation has vacated.
Rock for The Sea and Cake isn’t rock for Queens of the Stone Age; Sam Prekop’s breathy, laid back voice still guides these mostly easy going tracks, and though they’ve gone somewhat more upbeat, there are no beefy Valhallan riffs to speak of. Everybody has some pep to it though, which is a welcome shift from the dreamy, sleepy sounds the group has been known to create from time to time.
With a solid beat and waves of glistening guitar, “Up on Crutches” gets the album off to a cool, but energetic start, livened up enough to induce some early onset foot-tapping and head nodding. “Too Strong” is a bit more light and airy, but still carries on with a sprightly rhythm, offsetting any atmosphere-induced soporifics. Rocking a bit harder is “Crossing Line,” in which Prewitt plugs in the fuzz box and gets Big Muff all over the otherwise sexy and smooth track. “Middlenight” is a bit mellower, but stands as a delightful highlight, particularly for its Morricone-like guitar riffs and hauntingly subtle melodic graces.
For a rock album, Everybody is still glistening and gorgeous, which has been The Sea and Cake’s trademark sound since the beginning. One would hardly expect them to abandon their most strongly idiosyncratic trait, and they, sure enough, do no such thing. But even in maintaining their suave, lounge-influenced sheen, they supply a strong enough variation in styles, such as in “Exact To Me,” a song that has a more prominent African influence than any of the band’s prior material. In “Left On,” McEntire serves up some well-syncopated percussion to lay a funky groundwork for psychedelic drones of fuzzy feedback, sounding their least like The Sea and Cake for a good five minutes.
The Sea and Cake had a pretty good thing going all along, but with a bit extra in the way of distortion and momentum, they’ve managed to avoid going stale. No matter how beautiful or graceful a sound may be, sometimes just a touch of rawness or scuffing can make it that much better.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.