Sam Prekop and John McEntire have been working together for almost 30 years. As a singer-guitarist and drummer of The sea and the cake – alongside the bass player Archer Prewitt – the pair have amassed a body of work that takes a good few hours to sift through on Spotify, although the airy, effortless nature of the material is such, you’d be hard-pressed to remember which songs stood out. For fans, that familiarity has long been part of the Chicago band’s appeal: through 11 albums since their 1994 debut, The sea and the cakes the harmless post-rock – sometimes jazzy, sometimes overtly pop, always elegantly shot – has been a reliable and comforting presence; a steady reminder that no matter how terrible things are in the world, Sam Prekop will always sing its impenetrable poetry in low voices over lush grooves, each new episode of elegant fusion being slightly different from the last.
Listen closely and they’re a dynamic proposition – elements of modular synthesis and percussive percolations populate the 2011s butterfly in the moonlight and 2012 runner – yet, like any act of quality, their individual talents are at the service of the group, and The sea and the cakes enduring kindness can often seem to have turned these elite musicians into companions. With Son of, Trench and McEntire first joint collaboration, we hear what happens when they are released from the group format, when conventional structures no longer apply, and these inherently reserved creatures are let loose into the wild. As a live and largely improvised exercise in electronics, these four lengthy pieces bring out the best in the pair, showcasing their ability to go with the flow while harnessing their particular strengths.
By choice, McEntire has spent his entire career as an engineer, mixer and producer working within the schedules of other bands – he recently worked on by Ryley Walker fable lesson – and as the driving force behind Tortoise, his talents as the king of post-rock rhythm only shine sporadically these days. Their last album, The catastrophistwas released in 2016, and even within this group of free-jazz maestros, each member has a role to play, naturally limiting their possibilities of expression.
Prekop’s the musical evolution is more telling, as at some point between his 2005 solo set Who is your new teacher and the 2010s old punched card he had the modular synthesis bug and decided to focus on shimmering indie electronics towards voiceless analog electronics, its patterns and irregularities appealing to his artistic sensibility (he is also a photographer and painter). For a quiet, thoughtful man, the audacious instrumental works of his two recent albums, The Republic (2015) and Comma (2020), perhaps allow him to say more about himself, as he tries to give shape and meaning to the abstract sounds he generates in his home studio in Pilsen, Chicago.
Son of – appointed by McEntire after the Scott Walker song and featuring McEntire cats, Jackie and Lamar, on the cover – leads to some Prekop’s Publish-Comma excursions, “Spelling” and “Saturday Saturday”, two 20-minute pastoral circuit-bending pieces for the Longform Editions imprint. Yet it is McEntire which propels these new tracks along with luscious kicks and crisp snares, the hats turning into hiss as “A Midday Ghost” breaks down halfway and the pulses go to a climax of four to four during “Shallow Water Crossing”. For a project that started a few years ago as an occasional live improvisation – the duo sat on stage facing each other, hunched over their gear, with no clear idea of where they were headed – it became an exploration tempting modern kosmische. Apparently liberated by technology, these two fifties evoke the kind of utopian outfits imagined by Harold Grosskopf and Neu! over the 24 minutes “Yellow dress”a swirling, chirping journey that also nods to recent experiences of new wings and Peter Mannerfelt.
This track is based on a live recording of a performance in Chicago late last year, while “A Midday Ghost” derives from an earlier performance in Düsseldorf. Both were then polished by Trench and McEntire in their respective studios – McEntire now lives in Portland, Oregon – then sent between them until it was finished. What is most surprising Son of is how comfortable the pair is with this more psychedelic direction – which makes you wonder why they’ve never done this sort of thing before. The closure “Ascending by Night” is a powerful piece of smoking techno, bathed in vaporous synths. If this is what the post-rock after-party looks like, count on us.