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The Sea and Cake - Runner

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Artist: The Sea and Cake

Album: Runner

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Sep. 18, 2012

For a particular demographic, The Sea and Cake are something like aural comfort food — a timeless, evergreen pleasure that never fails to deliver the goods, even as it induces the guilty blush. Even having followed this band for most of their career, I still feel like a glutton admitting that, yeah, I’m kinda digging Runner. Nevermind that as a thirtysomething I should be in a better position than ever to appreciate their brand of precision-engineered smooth moves. In fact, what was I thinking listening to this kind of music in my early 20s? The audacity!

The greatest challenge as a veteran band still making good albums is simply making people care. Defying the typical creative trajectory of most groups, The Sea and Cake came out more-or-less fully formed, settling early on into the pina colada groove that would sustain them to this day. They sounded sophisticated and removed from the get-go, like an older European cousin imparting old-world virtues of dignified erudition, mostly to the response of respectful derision. Having perfected this approach by their third or fourth album, instead of breaking up, Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, John McEntire and Eric Claridge took the highly unorthodox approach of just continuing to do what they do.

Regardless of what they say, most bands break up because no one cares about them anymore — if they ever did to begin with. Even if it’s just changing the name and shifting around a member or two, a breakup allows for a fresh start. For this reason, the aforementioned approach of staying together is not generally an effective one in holding anyone’s attention. People move on. They get careers, they buy houses, they have kids. They sell all their music and definitely stop buying new Sea and Cake records (you mean they’re still putting out new records?!).

All this to say, if you’ve been away, it’s a better time than usual to check back. Last year’s Moonlight Butterfly EP felt like a renewal of the powers everyone had begun to take for granted a decade ago. Never a crew to let you see them sweat, Prekop and Co. had nonetheless begun to sound weary, or at least disinterested (or maybe that was just me), sometime around the turn of the century. The aforementioned EP and Runner signal a return to the "heritage" S&C sound, balancing motorik pulse and unbridled delicateness, regaining some of the spirit and intention that had begun to flag in the process. There’s even a risqué half-time breakdown in “On and On” that totally works — enough to throw your hands in the air and nod your head just as shamelessly. Chalk one up for the dignified and old.

By Jon Treneff

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