It’s not unusual for bands to lose sight of their actual abilities while eyeing lofty creative goals, but on its recently released fourth album, The Fawn (Thrill Jockey), the Sea and Cake has once again demonstrated restraint and balance in the pursuit of a challenge. The foursome abandoned the usual procedures for song genesis and constructed the tunes piecemeal from samples, drum loops, and fragmented guitar lines. Somehow Sam Prekop’s plaintive writing and John McEntire’s chimerical production coalesced in a way that retained the band’s essence while fundamentally altering its sound. Eric Claridge’s imaginative but sturdy bass lines ground the winsome melodies and airy textures–flute and violin snippets, fluttering, ventilated polyrhythmic drum programs, Archer Prewitt’s EBowed guitar, and Prekop’s fragile croon–preventing everything from drifting off into the ether. In fact, this tug-of-war between corporeal and ethereal has always been the Sea and Cake’s calling card, but the new record takes it to gorgeous extremes. And as a recent, unannounced gig at the Rainbo Club demonstrated, the band hasn’t surrendered its live act to technology–although Mark Greenberg, Prewitt’s former bandmate in the Coctails, has been drafted to man the keyboards. With its second album, Surrender to the Night (Thrill Jockey), Trans Am has managed a careful balance of its own, between tough, Krautrock-informed guitar-bass-drums instrumentals and minimal electro grooves that reside somewhere between Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa’s brilliant appropriations. The bombast–the speaker-shredding distortion on “Rough Justice,” or the dubby ponderousness of “Love Commander”–can get downright suffocating, but thankfully Trans Am displays an effective self-mockery live, obviously exaggerating the standard rock postures. Just because these three guys don’t take themselves too seriously, don’t assume they feel the same way about their music. Trans Am opens for the Sea and Cake on Friday; M, Rebecca Gates, and Soo Line do the honors on Saturday. Both shows are at 10 PM at Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. Trans Am also plays Saturday, 10 PM, at the Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of the Sea and Cake by Yael Routtenberg and Photo of Trans Am by Chris Toliver.