Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Sea And Cake: Everybody

Let's visualize something together. Imagine yourself back as a child. You're on summer vacation. It's the afternoon and you find yourself inside. Maybe you're tired from playing in the morning or you're waiting for your parents to make lunch. The A/C is on and for whatever reason you lay on the floor and stare out the window, up at that endless expanse of blue with a few clouds marring it. You can feel a little air from the nearest floor vent, cold and dry on your skin. You start to hum something pleasant to yourself.

This is what listening to The Sea And Cake is like. I gave you a nice visual image to experience, but there really isn't anything remarkable about it, is there?? I probably did something like that a few dozen times as a kid but I never think about it or bring it up to anyone. They aren't bad memories, obviously, but they aren't amazing experiences or magical. This, too, is what listening to The Sea And Cake is like. They don't make bad music by any definition but it isn't amazing or magical. The Sea And Cake are, at least in my book, two paradoxes in one:

1) They've released eight albums yet none of them--with the exception of Oui--are essential; at the same time, all eight are good and contain at least a few songs that fans won't want to miss.

2) Their sound remains almost entirely the same from album to album yet each one has its own character and feel.

Whenever I get around to listening to each The Sea And Cake album, I come to the same conclusion: this album is pretty good; it's got some awesome songs yet it doesn't add up to anything that makes me want to write needlessly long reviews. Consistency, then, is the band's greatest strength and greatest weakness. You can pretty much pick up any of their releases and get a good idea of what all the rest of them will sound like. Yet like a jazz band, The Sea And Cake employ the same instruments and 'sound' on each album but the results and atmosphere are different enough that fans will undoubtedly prefer one over all the rest. All the while, to the average listener, it's the same thing again and again.

The Sea And Cake have made a career out of what can best be described as "easy listening indie pop/rock with touches of jazz and electronic music." Those two clean, crystalline guitars, melodic but almost imperceptible bass, propulsive but only slightly funky percussion, and a smooth-and-warm-but-a-bit-nasally-voice. Plus some keyboards or drum machines every so often. There are no true peaks and valleys or jagged edges in The Sea And Cake's music. The songs operate under two headings, either "relaxing and nocturnal" or "breezy and sunny." Also, their music doesn't sound quite right when listened to in the Fall or Winter. It's got an effervescent Spring/Summer tone to it that I never pick up on until it is the Spring/Summer and I listen to them more than usual.

Oui is the only The Sea And Cake album that casual fans will need, but I still find something oddly compelling about their other albums such as Everybody. It's mostly the "I want more of a good thing" notion, I suppose; if My Bloody Valentine had gone on to produce 6 more things that barely toyed with the Loveless formula, I don't know that I would have complained. Partially, though, I think Everybody and its ilk are just easy listening in the literal, non-pejorative sense. I wouldn't go so far as to say they're like vacations or breaks from other music, because I've never thought of music as something I need a vacation from, but still. There's an ease and immediacy to The Sea And Cake's albums that is taken for granted.

When I burned a CD copy of Everybody, the songs somehow got jumbled up so that 'Introducing' was the first song. I didn't notice my mistake for almost twoo weeks. That kind of thing would be damning about another album--the order of the songs should always be meaningful, right?? Right!!--but it demonstrates the laid back-ness of The Sea And Cake. I want to have stronger reactions to their music, even if they're negative reactions. As it is, I feel ambivalent. Well, it's ambivalent in a positive way. Unless you really despise the idea of a band standing still but remaining consistently good, you'll never end up in arguments about The Sea & Cake's discography. It just sort of is there, waiting for you to get bored in a record store someday and think to yourself, "maybe I'll finally get around to one of The Sea And Cake's albums...."

(An Hour Or So Later, After Returning Home And Listening To It)

"Hey, that was alright, I guess. It sure is a nice day outside. Wonder if it'll rain tomorrow?"

While putting the CD back in the case: "Wonder when the next Tortoise album is coming out...."

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