Throughout a decade-plus career, the Sea and Cake have evolved from tight, jazz-influenced dream-pop to loose electronic and prog inclinations. As electronic-music evolved and spread its influence, the Sea and Cake advanced its sound by incorporating synthesizers, drum machines and electronics into its repertoire. Oui (2000) was the ideal union between these two directions: the band’s music at its best represents an atmosphere of reflective optimism and limitless, light exploration. But it seemed the band recognized that continued efforts along Oui‘s path would lead to stagnation (see 2003’s One Bedroom) and, for its seventh album (and first in four years), looked to its back catalogue for inspiration. The result is Everybody, the most organic and raw album in ten years from Chicago’s post-rock/bossanova pop institution that is the Sea and Cake.
I’d like to think that Who’s Your New Professor, the criminally underrated 2005 solo album from principal songwriter Sam Prekop, also played into the creation of Everybody. That album, along with classic early Sea and Cake material (1994’s self-titled release and 1995’s Nassau), showcase what made the Sea and Cake unforgettable in the first place: endless discovery and experimentation within the limitations of a pop song. From the first notes of Everybody, the band is trying to recapture the fire of its early albums. But the band has been moving away from that style since its inception; it’s not surprising that the transition back may not be as smooth as they had hoped.
“Up on Crutches” and “Middlenight” aim for airy buoyancy but seem too compact and tightly wound to achieve the breeziness they aspire to. On the other hand, “Coconut” and “Too Strong” slide and glide by with ease — Prekop’s soft, unassuming vocals sweep in and out of focus, coupling with spacious, loose instrumentation to achieve a rewarding mood of summery tranquility. “Crossing Line” is the most urgent and guitar-driven song the Sea and Cake has ever recorded, and it may be the one true moment of new creation on Everything. It finds the band realizing a novel discovery — the combination of being at once straightforward, breezy and experimental — and it may indicate where the Sea and Cake will venture to next.
If anything, Everybody succeeds in helping the band rediscover its identity. In the meantime, we have a look back at the past and a glimpse forward toward the future.