Sam Prekop / John McEntire - Sons Of Music Album Reviews

Sam Prekop / John McEntire - Sons Of Music Album Reviews
The first duo record from the longtime Sea and Cake bandmates exemplifies the ramshackle, improvisatory spirit that’s at the heart of modular synthesis.

The Sea and Cake have always radiated an unusual mixture of ease and control. Their balmy chords and sighing vocals may be redolent of lazy Mediterranean afternoons—Campari on ice, old-money sailboats—yet their rhythms remain impeccably unwrinkled. In contrast, Sam Prekop’s solo electronic work has always been playful, restless, maybe even a little bit reckless. Locked away in his home studio, the Chicago musician approaches his modular synthesizers like a genially rumpled Hollywood scientist, lab coat stained with strangely colored chemicals. Haywire arpeggios twitch and jerk; splotchy sounds undulate like cartoon amoebas. Infused with a guileless and inquisitive spirit, Prekop’s music is experimental in the most literal sense: What happens when I push this button?

Sons Of is the first duo record from Prekop and his longtime Sea and Cake bandmate John McEntire, a producer and percussionist who, between his time in Chicago groups like Tortoise and his work behind the boards for Stereolab and Teenage Fanclub, has put his stamp on decades of indie and post-rock. But the project is a long time coming: A dozen years ago, Prekop told an interviewer that the two men had recently been “very close to collaborating on an ‘old-fashioned’ sequencer record”; then Prekop’s twins were born, and his free time evaporated. The idea, though, did not. In 2019, they played a handful of shows together, recording as they went, and when the pandemic hit, they retreated to their respective studios and began emailing ideas back and forth. Compiling the fruits of those long-distance collaborations with material recorded live in 2019 and 2021, Sons Of represents a natural extension of Prekop’s solo electronic work, full of baubly tones, chirping accents, and supersaturated colors.

But there are crucial differences, too. The first becomes apparent just a little over a minute into the opening “A Ghost at Noon,” as a gargantuan kick drum comes pile-driving its way through elysian fields of synths. The rhythmic dimension of Prekop’s music has never been so prominent: He began toying with drum machines on 2020’s Comma, but every track on Sons Of is anchored by the steady thump of fat, declarative kick drums and crisp electronic hi-hats. Prekop has previously called his beat programming “rudimentary,” and despite McEntire’s prowess as a drummer, the duo doesn’t seem much interested in subtlety here; the album’s beats are proudly, almost defiantly simplistic. Pitched anywhere between a leisurely 118 bpm and a dubbed-out slow-motion crawl, the drums serve mainly an architectural function, like trellises to support the growth of their vine-like sequences. But that simplicity has a charm of its own: a mix of insistence and innocence that’s reminiscent of the very earliest house music.

Compared with Comma’s relatively compact statements, the four tracks on Sons Of positively sprawl. The shortest, “A Ghost at Noon,” is nearly eight minutes long; the longest nearly 24. The expanded real estate gives the duo ample room to dig into repetition’s hypnotic effects. You can hear echoes of Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 in their endlessly unspooling arpeggios and patient filter tweaks, but unlike the German composer’s scale model of infinity, Sons Of’s tracks are never content to remain in place for long. They’re not as mutable as either of Prekop’s recent albums for Longform Editions, which meandered across endlessly morphing landscapes for 20-plus minutes at a time. But fresh sounds are constantly coming and going. In “Crossing at the Shallow,” a new set of chords draped over an unchanging ostinato bassline lends a new harmonic dimension, turning a club track into something more like an actual song. And in “Ascending by Night,” when a unison melody line suddenly blossoms into triads, it’s unexpectedly affecting—a reminder of how powerful even the simplest harmony can be.

That expressive dimension is Sons Of’s greatest strength. Even as the music expands in length, it feels more immediately emotionally satisfying than any of Prekop’s previous electronic music. As his experiments have gotten riskier, the music has gotten sweeter. Every track is awash in sumptuous, eminently hummable melodies; the album swells with a newfound sense of joy. That’s particularly true of “A Yellow Robe,” the album’s longest track and clear highlight. Begun as a live improvisation in Chicago and then polished up in the studio, it’s a 24-minute dreamscape of percolating arpeggios and graceful melodic lines. For a time, its layers of soft, staccato tones suggest an ensemble of mallet instruments like marimba and xylophone; the groove moves with a syncopated shimmy, the rhythm’s particulars in permanent flux. (The beat on this one, at least, is anything but rudimentary.) But halfway through, things shift: New drums enter the frame, slipping like marbles around the electronically quantized pulse, and lush pads billow like clouds. Every few bars, there’s a new sound clamoring for your attention; the chords gradually become more enveloping, radiant, even sentimental. The drifting harmonies echo the Sea and Cake at their balmiest and most bucolic, where even the slightest effort melts beneath the glow of the endless summer; the tumbling groove exemplifies the ramshackle, improvisatory spirit that’s at the heart of modular synthesis. The combination of the two is delightful.

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Sam Prekop / John McEntire - Sons Of Music Album Reviews Sam Prekop / John McEntire - Sons Of Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, August 01, 2022 Rating: 5

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