The Sea and Cake: Runner

Sea and Cake, RunnerThe Sea and Cake: Runner
Although it doesn’t feel like you see them together too often, jazz and rock just might be a perfect pair. And if you want proof, The Sea and Cake’s new album, Runner, is a nice place to start. On this album ‒ the band’s tenth ‒ the Chicago post-rock outfit manages to take songs that are arranged fairly simply on the surface and bring them to some unexpected places. Whether it’s a drum machine or some vocal modulation, the record captures that freewheeling jazz spirit, while never taking too far. For its way of combining moderation with experimentation, Runner can be called nothing less than a triumph.

The album opens with “On and On,” one of the more high-tempo pieces on the album. Sam Prekop’s distinctly airy voice reaches some of its highest notes on this opener, and he manages to hit the tough notes admirably. On “Harps” ‒ one of my favorite tracks ‒ The Sea and Cake again achieves this light, dreamy quality that makes the music appear almost effortlessly composed. Listening closer, hearing the arpeggiators and gentle inclusion of synths, the care and precision of the track is evident. Consistently, The Sea and Cake manages to mix intricacy with looseness. “A Mere” has a beachy laziness to it, but by the end, the band’s shifted into a largely ambient, electronic soundscape that pops up again and again on the latter parts of the album. The return to this ambient sound happens most effectively on “New Patterns” ‒ another favorite. “Harbor Bridges” hearkens to some of the more minimalist Shins songs. One should note that The Sea Cake are likely an influence of James Mercer, and not vice versa. Because, in reality, The Sea and Cake have been bouncing around the indie rock scene for nearly two decades. Although they’ve amassed a fair level of notoriety, one would think the accessibility and ease of these songs would beget a wider fanbase. But maybe to some, the songs just aren’t immediate enough.

No matter the case, this is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve listened to this year. The songs are varied enough that the band never slips into some dull sort of comfort zone, but Prekop’s vocals and the pleasant interplay of jazz and post-rock gives Runner enough of a consistent style. It’s tempting to call this “easy listening,” but in reality, the compositions here are rich and complex without ever seeming to try too hard.
Rating: 8.6/10
MP3: The Sea and Cake “Harps”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl