On their eighth album, venerable Chicagoans the Sea and Cake continue to prove that being a breezy post-rock band is not an oxymoronic impossibility. Sam Prekop and company serve up their characteristic concoction of jazzy rhythms, softhearted melodies and crystal-clear production aesthetics on Car Alarm, a record equally appropriate to romantic afternoons and late-night drink-offs. When the Sea and Cake got their start, back when they were part of the heady, mid-‘90s Chicago experimental scene that included Gastr del Sol and Tortoise, their songs consisted of little more than singer Prekop’s hushed improvisations and driving arrangements of guitar-based jazz-rock. More than anything over their 10-plus years of existence, the guys in the Sea and Cake have learned how to write songs: Car Alarm is full of neat little ditties like “Window Sills,” a fervent piece of pace and action with a gleeful chorus, and “On a Letter,” a slightly winsome tune that flickers through humming guitars and laconic synthesizers. There are nods here to the electronic ornaments that the band explored more fully on 2003’s One Bedroom, but for the most part, Car Alarm is focused on the basics of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The percussion work of Tortoise’s John McIntire is, per usual, a highlight: He lays on the cymbals where needed and punctuates Prekop’s hiccupy vocal ticks and the layers of guitar riffs with syncopated swagger. Admittedly, the Sea and Cake has not come very far from where they were on last year’s Everybody, which was welcomed enthusiastically after a four-year hiatus, but it is nevertheless a potent thrill to listen to the low-key, articulate virtuosity of these indie-rock geezers.
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