There is comfort in consistency, and few bands illustrate this point better than The Sea and Cake. Started in the mid ’90s as a group of accomplished Chicago scene musicians playing Velvets-style garage rock with jazz precision, the group took a turn on the 2000 LP Oui, and haven’t looked back. On that album, bandleader Sam Prekop merged the impossibly clean grooves of ’50s and ’60s Brazilian pop with the electronic textures that were infusing indie from all angles at the time. It worked. Runner is the sixth album in this vein, and the sixth consecutive album to gently tweak the formula.
Prekop’s instantly identifiable, Angora-soft voice is as subtly expressive and adaptable as ever. On “Harps,” the band teases his lovely, sighing entrance with a minute-plus build of effervescent synths and John McEntire’s sturdy, drumming. On the closing title track, Prekop’s voice is a velvet drone, swirling like a smoke tendril. On “A Mere,” it shape-shifts into a groovy folk-pop croon.
The accompaniment, typically composed with the clean lines and attention to angles of Modernist architecture, is looser than usual. The song called “Skyscraper” is actually the closest thing to the band’s distant punk roots on the album, and with brisk opener “On and On,” it introduces a layer of guitar fuzz that scuffs the edges of Prekop’s abstracted lyrics. The twangy burn of the guitar on “New Patterns” even suggests a kinship with Nels Cline’s recent work for fellow Chicagoans Wilco. The Sea and Cake are the same as they ever were, still managing to sound like no one but themselves; as predictably intoxicating as ever.