MUSIC PROFILE | THE SEA AND CAKE

General maintenance is on The Sea and Cake frontman/guitarist Sam Prekop's mind when ION reaches him shortly after the Chicago outfit have wrapped a rehearsal. In part, this means the band have been tightening arrangements and locking back into the gentle, jazzy grooves they've been crafting together since the early 90s, and continue to expand upon with Any Day, their first album in six years. Prekop explains that he also just took his car in to a mechanic, and what he thought was going to be a quick fix has led to the discovery of "deeper issues." A resigned annoyance slips into the soft-spoken singer's voice regarding his car troubles, but he also adds with a sigh and laugh of how the other part of his day went: "We don't rehearse for fun."

Despite the hours The Sea and Cake have been putting in the last little while, the combo hardly sounds belaboured. Any Day, like their ten previous LPs, is a soul-refreshing spritz of post-rock, jazz and bossa nova sounds, Prekop complementing the blend with his misty whisper. It took a while to get back here, though. After wrapping the tour cycle behind 2012's Runner in 2014, drummer John McEntire cooked up the mind-bending The Catastrophist album with his other longtime project, Tortoise, and promptly hit the road for an extended period. Prekop, meanwhile, segued back into his solo career, shelving his six-string to produce the electronic oscillations of 2015's The Republic. After some time apart, though, he was ready to get back to something more organic, and called up McEntire and guitarist Archer Prewitt to start working on new tunes.

"The transition takes me a while," the songwriter admits. "I had been pretty engrossed in my modular synthesizer career at that time. I hadn't touched a guitar in what seemed like years. So I'm always apprehensive when I sense that I have to change gears. [But] also, I realized that if I just take the plunge, that apprehension will evaporate."

Any Day marks the first time the group have recorded without founding bassist Eric Claridge, who departed from the project shortly after completing Runner, due to developing carpal tunnel. Last year, McEntire, Prekop and Prewitt waded into uncharted waters as a trio, though it's this uncertainty that excited them the most about hitting the studio. In turn, Any Day sounds especially energized and cheery, from the driving rhythms and lightly distorted eBow that envelope "Starling"  to the spritely guitars and on-the-beat snare snap of "I Should Care". The title track bops along gleefully with the addition of guest musician Nick Macri's robust double bass work. But despite the resounding joy of the sonics, Prekop's lyrics occasional take a turn towards the wistful. A feeling of emptiness creeps into more than a few couplets, like on opener "Cover the Mountain" where the in-song narrator finds himself "waiting here with nothing to say".

"Other people have been recognizing [that] some of the lyrics seem quite defeated, and quite melancholy," Prekop concedes. "I hope this doesn't come off as whiny. In a way, they're just pop songs and they're not really autobiographical. In another way, its expressing how hard the work is....the insecurities of this being a livelihood."

If Prekop was unsure about the impact of The Sea and Cake a quarter century into their career, Any Day should put those qualms to rest. The act doesn't stray too far from the daiquiri-sweet sway they first spun out in the 90s, but there are subtle, rewarding differences to be found in each LP. Take the way they affixed light and glitchy electronic beatmaking to parts of 1997's The Fawn, or their evolution towards cocktail hour veranda jazz on 2001's Oui, or how they upped the synth-driven melodies on Runner. Any Day is the latest gentle tweak to an immaculate catalogue.

"I know we're often criticized for not, perhaps, changing enough, or whatever. I mean, I think it's just on a different scale. I think the sound that we've achieved is quite unique, not to be honking my own horn about it. I've always felt that it would be a shame to toss out our long history of working together. "

Photo: Heather Cantrell

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