Why does a new Sea and Cake record sound so good right now?  Runner comes out this week, relatively hot on the heels of last year’s The Moonlight Butterfly, and I find myself faced with this question: Is this band (or any band prompting the same reflection) actually better on this outing (their tenth) than on their previous nine full-lengths and umpteen EPs and singles and collaborations?  A band is a band partially because of a certain expectancy that their sound will remain in some way consistent.  The Sea and Cake, partially because they are alone in the field with their particular brand of off-rock Herbie Hancocking, has perhaps more than other, less uniquely defined bands been successful in creating this impression of consistency record to record.  You’re not going to confuse a Sea and Cake record for anything but a Sea and Cake record (with the exception of a solo record by any one of its members, that is).  And Runner has all the components of a Sea and Cake record: Same Prekop’s lighter than air aspirated be-bop cadenced vocals, the kilter-offing touch of jazz timing wherever it will fit in with the motorik cadences the band also employs, the bubbling of synthesizers, and Archer Prewitt’s unmistakably patient, willfully, intensely restrained playing style.  As one digression out of many, this record marks the moment when I realized that, unbeknownst to me, Prewitt has for some time ranked among my favorite musicians.  His opening guitar solo on “New Patterns” reminds me of the fine work he did on Sea and Cake frontman Sam Prekop’s 2005 Who’s Your New Professor, especially the solo on “Dot Eye” starting at about 2:20.

So, what have I said?  This is a Sea and Cake record, and all Sea and Cake records share traits in common that make them recognizable and better than the music made by other bands.  So why say anything about this record in particular?  Runner is more Sea and Cake than many of the records that came before it.  It has the leaning-forward, nearly out of control rock energy of 1995’s Nassau and the careful, controlled, clean integration of electronics that marked 1997’s The Fawn, both heavily tempo-oriented records.

Or, perhaps the reason that this record sounds so good has nothing to do with the record or the band that made it.  Perhaps it’s just me, just now.  Maybe it’s just that what my world needs now is a new Sea and Cake record, full stop, and there’s no objectivity that will allow me to preach on my subjective enjoyment of this masterwork.  Have a listen.

Bear Claw – No Band Can Be this Good

Rich Fessler of Bear Claw hurting his bass as much as it hurts him.

During the chilliest years of the Cold War a secret project was undertaken here in the United States of A. to develop the most obviously superior rock music ever conceived for export to countries whose youths were sustained with with inferior rock knockoffs and black market Finnish socks.  It was hoped that this would so demoralize the youth on the other side of the iron curtain that they would abandon their national heritage in droves for the chance to star as extras in an interminable series of sequels to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  The project was disbanded suddenly with little explanation, but not before the only two products of this secret cultural war were incubated and brought to term in giant tanks covered in tubes and amplifier cords.  One of those is a man named Logan, better known as the Wolverine.  His vicious spiky hands and hot temper, it is rumored, were the prime mitigating factor in the continuation of the project.  However, if the top brass had taken the time to plug him into a Marshall Stack they would have nocturnal emissions listening to that sustain.  I mean, adamantium just rings out forever.  Then maybe the other legacy of that project, Bear Claw, would be a household name today.  Bear Claw combined the best of both worlds- vicious, crystalline, clear and precise aggression tempered with compositional complexity and tightly controlled tone- and no spikes coming out of the hands.

Bear Claw has a new record.

Released on Tuesday and available as a CD/LP combo or digital download, Chicago’s Bear Claw released their Steve Albini-recorded, Bob Westen-Mastered Refuse this Gift via Sick Room Records.  Have a listen.