In the three years since the release of the Sea and Cake’s fourth album, The Fawn (Thrill Jockey), the band has nearly been eclipsed by its members’ other projects. Front man Sam Prekop and guitarist Archer Prewitt released substantive solo albums, and between playing in Tortoise and producing records for bands on both sides of the Atlantic, John McEntire built himself a real recording studio, Soma. (Bassist Eric Claridge, whose idiosyncratic contributions are often undervalued in part because he doesn’t play in any other bands, spent at least some of his downtime painting funny pictures of animals and robots, some of which have been seen in the pages of the Reader’s Section Four.) The group finally reconvened (at Soma) to make the new Oui, which reflects the members’ solo careers but also represents a step forward for the group as a whole. The album isn’t a total retreat from the computer-aided confection of The Fawn, but the band did record directly to tape, and the sound of guitars, however polished, is back in front. While sumptuous synth lines (and, on “The Leaf,” McEntire’s Steve Reich-inspired vibes) snake through many of the arrangements, the most striking extras are the horn and string charts contributed by Paul Mertens, a collaborator of Prewitt’s who this summer arranged Brian Wilson’s symphonic re-creation of Pet Sounds. Prekop’s breathy singing is subtle but confident, softer than ever but tightly intertwined with the instrumentation. The band was more aggressive than on the record but just as focused when it played the Hideout in August (with keyboardist Dave Crawford, another Prewitt associate). Also on the bill are the Aluminum Group, who’ve taken a Fawn-like approach to their fourth album, Pelo (Hefty). With the help of producer John Herndon (McEntire’s bandmate in Tortoise), Frank and John Navin have wedded their morose, Bacharach-inspired melodies to low-impact beat-oriented tracks. Herndon’s busy but nimble programming and electronic textures never overwhelm the brothers’ subtle tunefulness and often create good tension with their hushed crooning. Although I don’t think the lyrics sting with the same precision they have on the past few albums, the band has grown more melodically sophisticated: “Good-bye Goldfish, Hi Piranha,” sung by guest vocalist Sally Timms, may be the most beautifully melancholy thing the Navins have written yet. Town and Country also perform. Wednesday, November 8, 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Susan Anderson/Jason Pickleman.