The sloth is the slowest moving land mammal on Earth. Far from being slovenly, the sloth is a dignified creature whose movement is analogous to that of an ancient tai chi master. Sloths force us to make an important distinction between the slow and the idle. The sloth isn’t a lazy creature; it just embodies enviable traits such as grace, poise, and elegance.
The four members of the Sea and Cake move in much the same way as the sloth, and they bear many of the same hallmarks. Their eponymously titled first album was released 14 years ago, and their sound has undergone a slumberous evolution in the intervening years. Much of Car Alarm, the band’s eighth album for Thrill Jockey, wouldn’t sound out of place on any of their other records. Occasionally a little electronic tweak might surface that wasn’t there before, but if you’ve heard any previous Sea and Cake albums you’ll know what to expect here.
Their frosty guitar pop, eloquently spun around the becalming vocals of singer Sam Prekop, sounds instantly familiar as the choppy riff of opening track “Aerial” begins. Listening to the Sea and Cake engenders a similar feeling to welcoming back an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while but can’t quite work out why you both lost touch. Car Alarm’s second track, the somniferous “Fuller Moon,” enhances the feeling even further, as stuttery drummer John McEntire produces a battery of familiar beats that remain a perfect foil to Prekop and Archer Prewitt’s jazzy guitar noodlings.
The instrumental “CMS Sequence” offers a one-minute respite from the haze, with a (presumably) McEntire-driven piece of electronica that sounds like an offcut from Tortoise’s “Djed.” The only real curio here is “Weekend,” which is buoyed by the kind of bleepy rave-inflected electro that A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State were tampering with in the early ’90s. But the band never really pushes itself into unchartered waters, always keeping things on an even keel thanks to the affable and extremely familiar way their songs tend to pan out.
The second half of the album is the sound of a band comfortably operating within its own parameters. At times it feels like they’re sleepwalking through the material, but much like the sloth, they do it with a balletic grace that lulls the listener into a pleasurable state of sleepy hypnosis. Sometimes there’s a comfort to be found in familiarity, and Car Alarm plays like an object lesson on why sticking to your guns isn’t always such a bad idea after all.