The Sea and Cake have always radiated an unusual blend of ease and control. Their soft chords and sighing vocals may evoke lazy Mediterranean afternoons – Campari on ice, old-fashioned sailboats – but their rhythms remain impeccably smooth. By contrast, Sam Prekop’s solo electronic work has always been playful, restless, perhaps even a bit reckless. Locked away in his home studio, the Chicago musician approaches his modular synthesizers like a brilliantly crumpled Hollywood scientist, a lab coat stained with weirdly colored chemicals. Haywire arpeggios contract and shake; mottled sounds ripple like cartoon amoebas. Imbued with a candid and curious spirit, Prekop’s music is experimental in the most literal sense: What happens when I push this button?
Son of is the first duo album from Prekop and longtime Sea and Cake bandmate John McEntire, a producer and percussionist who, between his stints in Chicago bands like Tortoise and his work behind the boards of Stereolab and Teenage Fanclub, has marked by decades of indie and post-rock. But the project is slow to come: a dozen years ago, Prekop told an interviewer that the two men had recently “closed to collaborating on an ‘old-fashioned’ sequencer record”; then Prekop’s twins were born and his free time evaporated. The idea, however, was 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 started emailing ideas. Compiling the fruits of these remote collaborations with material recorded live in 2019 and 2021, Son of represents a natural extension of Prekop’s solo electronic work, full of drooling tones, warbling accents and oversaturated colors.
But there are also crucial differences. The first becomes apparent just over a minute into “A Ghost at Noon”, as a gargantuan bass drum smashes its way through the Elysian fields of synths. The rhythmic dimension of Prekop’s music has never been more important: he started playing with drum machines in the 2020s. Commabut every track on Son of is anchored by the dull and regular noise of big declarative bass drums and crisp electronic hats. Prekop has previously called their lineup of beats “rudimentary,” and despite McEntire’s prowess as a drummer, the duo doesn’t seem too keen on subtlety here; the beats on the album are proudly, almost defiantly and simplistic. Launched anywhere between a leisurely 118 bpm and a doubled slow-motion crawl, the drums serve primarily an architectural function, as trellises to support the growth of their vine-like sequences. But this simplicity has a charm of its own: a mixture of insistence and innocence reminiscent of the very first house music.