August 26, 2008

THRILL ME UP: Album Reviews!!

artist: The SEA and CAKE
album: Car Alarm
label: Thrill Jockey
rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
release date: October 21

The exciting sound of a well-oiled band. Car Alarm is The Sea and Cake’s eighth full-length record. It is bracing, like the surge of wasabi on sweet sushi, like the slap of cool water on a diving body, like the head-rush of a rollercoaster just leaving summit. Bracing music is most often encountered in concert. Only the heaviest hitters have translated the live thrill into the recording studio. Think of the great working bands, the Charles Mingus Quintet, the John Coltrane Quartet, the Meters or the Minutemen. For them, there was no gaping chasm between the studio and the road; the studio was just another stop, a gig, a continuous part of the flow of playing and working and
creating together.

Car Alarm is the sound of a well-oiled band. Heavy hitters. Listen to the intricate intertwining strings of Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt and you’ll hear the frontline of a working unit that has moved seamlessly from the stage to the studio and back. Historically, The Sea and Cake stayed the course since forming in Chicago in 1993, but over the last couple of years they have pulled in even tighter, recording hot and fast on the heels of a busy performance schedule without breaking for other projects. The sense of trust and communication that is key to a working band – particularly in the rhythm section, where drummer John McEntire and bassist Eric Claridge create their intimate alchemy – is cultivated over the long haul, by means of an epoxy bond and preternatural antennae. Stop working together, and those connections go dormant, hibernate; keep on trucking, and they deepen and get sharper, allowing the band to reach for new things, experiment freely, evolve and develop and grow. The ground doesn’t have to be prepared; the canvas is already primed, ready for the first brushstroke.

The aim with Car Alarm was to follow up quickly on its precursor, the somewhat stripped down Everybody. Prekop says the band wanted to make a record that felt like they had never stopped playing, a continuously limbered up ensemble that parlayed its last tour into new material. They started working on it right after an Australian tour in March, and finished it after a miraculous three-month gestation. If the usual process in pop music is to make a record and then breathe life into it on the road, this flips that presumption on its head, starting with a vital, pulsing set-list on disc; what heights they’ll take the new songs to in concert only remains to be seen.

Where in the past, The Sea and Cake has disbursed between records to allow each member their individual pursuits – Prekop and Prewitt’s artwork and solo projects, McEntire’s production at his SOMA Studio and work with Tortoise, Claridge’s alternate identity as a painter – in this case they didn’t disband, but dove straight into Car Alarm. The quickness reflects a personal urgency, too, given the imminent delivery of Prekop’s firstborn. Thoughts of fatherhood may lend a kind of optimistic air to the record. It has the breezy, open, crisp sound that The Sea and Cake have spent 15 years crafting, but Car Alarm also has a palpable edge. That’s the edge of people who know each other well enough to push a bit harder, who aren’t worried about ruffling each other’s feathers or trying something different, difficult, intuitive, trusting. Something bracing. Here ‘tis. --T.J.



label: Thrill Jockey

rating: ****
(out of 5)

Thank You is an athletic rhythm/action unit from Baltimore, made up of Jeffrey McGrath, Michael Bouyoucas, and Elke Wardlaw. They are three free individuals, subsumed into a collective form that spits out dank, skittering tracks filled with light and dark. Their new album, Terrible Two, was engineered by Baltimore’s beloved J.Robbins (Yeasayer, Mary Timony, Jets to Brazil) at his studio in Baltimore and mixed by Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Celebration, TV on the Radio) at his studio in New York City.

Shortly after the recording of Terrible Two, Elke was drawn by wanderlust and moved to Berlin. Drummers are always hard to find, but luckily for Jeff and Michael, good friend Emmanuel Nicolaidis, who played with Michael in a band called More Dogs (Monitor), stepped in to man the kit. Emmanuel’s heavy but quick, nimble and inventive style was an instant fit and he learned the entire set within a week. With the collective whole once again, they’ve been working on new ideas and are set to hit the road.

The band has been building up a reputation via their live show, which has left audience members joyful, overwhelmed, and ready to spread the word. A seeming telepathy occurs onstage. The band enters into musical dervishes, a union, a breathless chaos that results in one hell of a Saturday night and what seems like a musical fight.

The members of Thank You are longtime friends and musical collaborators, working hard to bring to life their wholly original compositions. Musical ideas are introduced and have conversations with one another, each track filled with new articulation and insight. The basics of drums, organ, and guitar build the foundation, but are augmented by whistles, cowbell, hobo harmonica, snappy loops, car horns, and whatever else might be at hand.

With the new album, building on the template they have created, under the otherworldly guidance of producer Chris Coady, the band has utilized live staples and new compositions to create a fully realized portrait. They sing, they dance, they go far away and come back. The listener taps their toes, nods their head, and smiles, welcomed into their glorious song.

It is safe to say that beat-diggers and electronic artists will have a rich resource in the recorded output of the band, each track having the potential to be chopped and screwed, looped and loped into new soundtracks and sample beds. Don’t wait for that to happen, though. Listen to Thank You and listen to the future now. --T.J.

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