Even for a band with a streak of consistency, Oui has always felt like the most special and outstanding of all of The Sea and Cake's releases. The elements of their sound and songwriting were well in place by the time of its release The group's 90s output established their mellow, jazzy, and ethnic-tinged music before increasing the electronic influences with 1997's The Fawn. After a three year break, they returned in 2000 with this album, which expertly fuses the earlier, more guitar-heavy-and-jazzy vibe and their newer electronic focus. But it's more than that. It's also the songwriting, the pacing, and the flow that lends Oui a perfect shine.
It's impossible to be stressed out or unhappy while listening to The Sea and Cake. Their's is a style with no tension, angst, or conflict; even at its most engaging, energetic, and propulsive, there's an easy going vibe that wrangles the music into a smooth breeze instead of an unpleasant gust. Yet Oui is their most laid back and relaxing album of all. Sure, all of their stuff has a Spring and Summer feel to it, but Oui practically demands you be reclined, if not entirely vertical, and for the weather, at a bare minimum, to be in the mid 60s and at least partially sunny.
The album may start with the one-two punch of 'Afternoon Speaker' and 'All The Photos', arguably the strongest opening salvo of a The Sea and Cake album ever, but the lengthy third track 'You Beautiful Bastard' soon takes things down a notch. An instrumental, its patient guitar interplay and steady-as-she-goes cymbals bring to mind laying on a raft at the beach or napping in a hammock. The ebb and flow of the volume levels on 'The Colony Room', from Sam Prekop's mellow “dum de dum, duh duh dum” wordless scat-like singing to the swells of guitar, drums, and organ, would be enough to seal it as one of the band's high points, but then they go ahead and throw in a tasteful horns-and-orchestra interjection at the 2:20 mark. I would be remiss not to mention the intricately played 'I Missed The Glance', which grooves along nicely in the band's trademark breezy-and-jazzy-with-touches-of-electronics style before transforming roughly halfway through for a more minimalist and cinematic coda.
For an album I've come to regard as so stellar, I wish I had a lot more to say about Oui. But by its very easy going, relaxing nature, it resists lengthy analysis and deep critical machinations. It's just The Sea and Cake's best album; there's no weak or forgettable songs and it flows so well you barely notice it's over when it is. That's as good as I can do; trying to burrow deeper would be like trying to explain why I love laying on my couch on Sunday afternoons, feeling the breeze coming from the windows, occasionally getting up to sip a Cherry Coke (on ice, naturally), and not having a care in the world.Oui is one of those unassuming masterpieces that never makes lists from websites and magazines, but will hit the spot in the way no other album can when you're in the right mood and the weather is just peachy.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5