It struck me immediately that this was the sound I have wanted to hear ever since falling in love with 'Eureka' and 'Halfway to a Threeway' by Jim O'Rourke. The production on 'Oui' is wonderful - the sounds are clear and resonant - and the songs are familiar and catchy, but with a unexpected depth.
Each song is lovingly crafted and skilfully executed. The album is cleverly paced and balanced to keep you returning to the beginning as soon as the record is over.
But all this production sheen and melty-smooth sound would normally make for a vacuous listen. On the contrary, Sam Prekop's breathy vocal delivery masks a real yearning that is hidden within his cryptic couldn't-care-less lyrics.
Back in '94 their first, Self-titled album showed what a new sound these guys could make with your basic guitar-bass-drum (for the most part) lineup and it was great. After that drummer John McEntire, the notable electro-synth-drummachine producer began to flex his creative muscle within the group. McEntire's efforts are quite evidently reflected in "The Fawn" and "The Biz". This brought on a bit of negative critique from those who felt the band best expressed itself with the simplicity of the first album. I, however, held on and kept listening - after all it still was fantastic music.
To me, "Oui" marks a reversion in the direction of that first golden album. The synth and drum machining are there, but seem to be a bit suppressed. The album is polished and flawless; somewhere in the last decade or so these guys turned into real professionals.
On the downside, this album lacks a few trademark Sea and Cake elements. As had been my complaint as the band matured, Singer Sam Prekop sounds at times like he may have lost his edge. I remember a raw, envigorated Prekop with his rambling hipster lyrics. He seems to have given that up for a more harmonic tone. Additionally, the music isn't as catchy as previous works. Not by any means to the point of bore and redundancy, but they have done better.
The verdict? Someone new to S&C might be advised not to buy this album - initially, at least, as the band will be falsely represented by this newer stride. Die hard S&C fans? You can't go wrong. This album is a Solid Piece of work - Buy It!
This still is very original sounding stuff (Like you've heard it before somewhere, but you just can't put your finger on it). Oui sounds like the next step in the evolution of a fine, experimental, jazz rock band. 10 years ago, anything with the jazz rock tag would've been put out with the weekend beer bottles by those in the know. I am very impressed how the distinctive personalities of this band mesh so seemlessly. True, Sam Prekopf's vocals seem a bit limited (one breathless intonation after another), but with the nifty jazz chords of Archer Prewitt, the obviously in (deservedly)demand production skills of John McEntire, and the fine anchoring bass of Eric Claridge, you get a record which really transcends the concept of "jazz rock" (see Steely Dan). I really dig the analog keyboards and the other melodic percussion. The production does sound a little bit like Sterolab-lite (Well, gee, John Mc. was around for that stuff, too.), but that band still sounds like robots compared to this. The four distinct personalities in this band come together like no other right now.
The new wave jazz of this band has never sounded better.
Recommended for the night after (04:45 AM Chicago time).
The Sea and Cake continues to set the precedent for the entire "jazz-rock" concept.
(For those those who don't dig the "breathless" vocals of Sam Prekopf, look to fine records from Archer Prewitt. Each one, again, better than the last).
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