There was a period of a few years, back in the 90s, when the whole Chicago post-rock scene was truly one of the most exciting (if also one of the quietest) mini-movements going on in independent music. The exploration and deconstruction of jazz with just enough traditional structuring to offset the abundant electronic weirdness and all that awkward empty space was interesting and valuable. At the forefront of the entire scene was Tortoise, the ambitious band helmed by John McEntire. And in addition to Tortoise, there were all of its various off-shoots, like Brokeback, the Chicago Underground Duo and Isotope 217. And yet just like that, over the course of less than a decade, the whole thing sort of died down. And as it did, another one of McEntire’s projects, the Sea and Cake, surfaced as the one that would ultimately make it through, thanks to willingness to inject their jazzy experiments with a user-friendly poppiness that had been missing from so many of the other recording projects.
After getting their start with a series of albums that were pretty much in keeping with the Chicago-style minimalism with which they’ve always been associated, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt, along with McEntire, started dabbling in a distinctly original type of sunny, laid-back pop that was as influenced by Brazilian music as it was by jazz. They honed their sound over six albums before taking what would turn out to be a four-year break after releasing One Bedroom in 2003. Now they’re set to release Everybody, their first record back after an extended hiatus, and they haven’t skipped a beat. Everything we’ve come to expect from them is perfectly in place: McEntire’s outstanding drumming, so precise you almost think it’s a drum machine; Sam Prekop’s breathy, soothing vocals, which sit perfectly in the mix, never over-shadowing either his own or Archer Prewitt’s pleasantly noodly guitar work. Not an awful lot has changed over the years, and so the Sea and Cake do come dangerously close to being a band by whom you only need one or two records; try getting a consensus regarding which one or two, though, and you’ll have a pretty tough time. Might as well just grab ‘em all.