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The Sea and Cake - Any Day (Thrill Jockey)

The Sea and Cake - Any Day
11 May 2018

Nearly six years have passed since Runner, making it the longest gap between albums for The Sea and Cake. They’ve hardly been sweating out fans; John McEntire embarked on a hefty tour with Tortoise for The Catastrophist and Sam Prekop released a collection of modular synthesizer work, inviting Archer Prewitt along for its tour where the two would play a stripped-down handful of TSaC songs towards the end of each show. Musically absent in the interim was bassist Eric Claridge, who had to sit out of the Runner touring dates due to worsening carpal tunnel. It’s with a heavy heart that the group’s latest record Any Day is their first as a three-piece.

Bad news upfront: Claridge’s departure will be instantly apparent to the seasoned listener. The man is/was one of indie rock’s most idiosyncratic bassists, always hitting the notes you wouldn’t expect and letting it blend seamlessly into the mix. He was a bassist more concerned with texture than contour, melody over root notes. The band’s filling in for him on this effort, as well as Nick Macri’s double bass guest performance on the titular track, doesn’t seek to recreate a ghost of his touch, and wisely so. An attempt at imitating Claridge’s oneness would be a fool’s errand, and fools The Sea and Cake are not. So, whether the driving synth bass in “Cover the Mountain” or the waltzing approximation in “These Falling Arms,” the missing ingredient himself will be fondly remembered behind the veneer—here more than ever given the freshness of the wound. For now, we can only imagine precisely what sort of flourishes he would have contributed to these tunes.

One hopes that someday he’ll return to the fold, but this is Any Day, and as long as Prekop remains principal songwriter and McEntire can be found at the mixing board, everything will fall into place. Prekop’s free associative lyricism is, as always, a fountain for golden phraseology. His words never tell stories so much as evoke moods that can be gleaned in passing, all ostensibly composed in a higher understood state of euphoric Chicago cool. While at times delightfully nonsensical, there is real poetry at work. “Occurs,” for example, bears the line, “I’m beginning to trust/I’m getting nowhere.” This is just one moment of many in which Prekop rides the advantage of vague punctuation to produce a cutting sentiment of ennui: does he trust that he’s getting nowhere or is the act of trusting getting him nowhere?

With Car Alarm and Runner, they adopted a new habit of including sleek, revved up numbers like “Skyscraper” and “Car Alarm” to their records, favoring this style to their earlier, more outwardly “rocking” inclinations. “Day Moon” and “Circle” fit that bill this time around, meeting the oeuvre’s recent standards. They’re predictable entries if you’ve been keeping up, but what keeps these latest albums from being serviceable and instead essential is that to this day, no other band will come close to hitting the mark of the refined and worldly post-rock niche The Sea and Cake have carved out for themselves. They cannot help but echo the past on a song like “These Falling Arms,” which brings Any Day to an end in similar fashion to “Transparent,” though far more urgent to be a retreading, reaching its heavenly denouement by alternate and equally satisfying means.

Any Day boasts its share of songs hardly anticipated yet just as seemly as any other in the catalogue. “Cover the Mountain” is the only tune to clock in under three minutes, following the trend of “Aerial” and “On and On” in kicking things off with pomp, and is that… desperation in Prekop’s voice when he croons, “Standing here with nothing to find”? “I Should Care” is by-the-books; it’s what would pop out of a machine scientifically engineered to produce a post- One Bedroom TSaC song, complete with a tense, lush, hair-raising outro. The rim-click-tastic “Into Rain” finds them wearing their Brazilian influence on their sleeves with an always welcome swell of Prewitt’s E-bow. “Any Day” joins the annals of their greatest triumphs as we see the group in conflict, pensive and struggling, parsing through solutions over a steady 4/4 ride cymbal beat the way artists with too much on the mind crumple papers and toss them at wastebaskets. It’s a bold expression derived from stress and change; a powerful statement of feeling weakened with a hidden meaning, crafted from the masters in rare form, typical form, and most importantly, new form.

You may purchase the record here.