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Sam Prekop - Comma (Thrill Jockey)

Sam Prekop - Comma
10 July 2020

To most, Chicagoan Sam Prekop strums and chops at the Telecaster that provides the foundation of jazz and bossa nova to The Sea and Cake. Even jazzier are his vocals: versional, spasmodic in his younger years, always favoring verbal gestalt over literal meaning. A curious flipside exists within the longstanding face of these purveyors of city cool. Synthesizers grace several tunes throughout the band’s catalogue such as “Harps” and the obvious “CMS Sequence”, but these are mild flirtations compared to Prekop’s full blown love affair with the gear. Following two decidedly electronic LPs, Comma is his fifth album, officially tipping the lion’s share of his solo output to lean toward modular pieces over his more traditional songwriting.

Perhaps it’s your writer’s limited knowledge of the instrument’s mechanics and vocabulary, but Prekop’s evolution in crafting music in these conditions is stark and incredibly traceable. Old Punch Card is his career’s stylistic U-turn, trading rock elements for modular analog synths. Its construction was so pored over and meticulous that it ends up resembling primitiveness and unfamiliarity; i.e. unbridled experimentalism. The Republic channels similar sandbox sessions into a set of conventionally agreeable movements but it wears the soundtrack disclaimer on its sleeve, bearing in mind another artist’s vision. His graduation to beat programming delineates Comma from the past. What we have here are ten concentrated distillations of his hardwired best in opposition to the jams and tinkering he’d cumbersomely taken on the road in recent years.

This facet is often just as relaxed and balmy as his guitar compositions, but the new frontier of drum machines—more upfront than underneath—boasts a fervor that easily out-aggresses any other facet when it seeks to. Opener “Park Line” drifts onto the scene fading in a four-on-the-floor kick drum with a foamy, evaporating finish. A synth line, sophisticated in texture, struts its stuff fashionably late, commanding awe from the miasma and carrying out the number on its slow motion catapult into deep space. This transitions nicely into the effervescent “Summer Places”, where every note appears to multiply when sounded, popping off into its next phase like a rapid game of telephone using only tonality.

“Never Met” is assembly line music for the future, bridging the gap between Modern Times’ mania in monotony and the clanging dissonance of Eraserhead. Like this track, the album itself is always effusive, and its strongest moments come from its occasional willing surrender and inherent suggestion of utopia/dystopia. “September Remember” is total bliss, six to seven notes on repeat, comfortably exhumed from the nimbi of heaven’s walkway. Eerie, alien leads harkening to Boards of Canada imbue “The New Last” with a hypnotizing, haunting air that creeps over a dour, sci-fi progression—the likes of which are completely unseen in any TSaC recordings.

So it’s not unheard of to veer from difficulty into accessibility, but two modular records removed from Old Punch Card’s abandon of form, Prekop has not lost that sense of exploration while declaring a new competency. Sam Prekop the jazz rock frontman and Sam Prekop the modular synth artist are two very different people and Comma is the freshest, most spirited work either has shared in years.

You may purchase the record here. (Edit: the physical release of this record has been pushed back to August 21st due to plant closures and manufacturing delays.)