Short Cuts

Sam Prekop
Sam Prekop
(Thrill Jockey)

Even on his first solo record Sam Prekop (ex-Shrimp Boat frontman) can't stay away from the postrock supergroup that he leads, the Sea and Cake of Chicago; two Cakers, percussionist John McEntire (also of Tortoise) and guitarist Archer Prewitt (late of the Coctails), assist on his debut. With sympathetic production and multiple instrument help coming from avant-garde remixer-producer Jim O'Rourke, the record is much like Prekop's work with the band -- some light jazz, a bit of soundscape, a hint of Caribbean styles, and (best of all) low-key pop. It's a breezy-feeling record that has more thinking behind it than one would assume, almost a studied kind of carelessness. However, the electronic instrumentation so prevalent on the Sea and Cake's most recent record, The Fawn, is rarely evident here, giving Prekop's solo debut a more refined and somber mood.

The record drifts along with a mostly minimalist approach, using jazzy drums and percussion, organ, and vibraphones to complement Prekop's infrequently used, lilting voice. The lack of bombast is inviting, but when the songs need more to carry them, they often disappear in a waft of smoke. "Smaller Rivers" is merely a descending guitar line with a piano filling a handful of space underneath, less a song than two people playing the same seven notes on guitar for two minutes. The piano, drums, and ambient noises of "Cloud to the Back" are supposed to be fluffy, as the title implies, but don't provide the slightest suggestion of motion.

Despite these hollow interruptions, songs like the closing "So Shy" -- with its hushed falsetto vocals, funky bass line, and strings (like postrock Burt Bacharach with a much subtler hook) -- more than keep the record on track. Bookending the record is the opener, "Showrooms," also a smooth (albeit light) pop song. Thanks to Prewitt's deft touch on the guitar, the strings of Julie Pomerleau, and a few licks on the Hammond organ, the song smacks of the lounge jazz of one of Prewitt's former bands, the Coctails.

Between the first and last songs, the album shifts away from these kinds of easier listening, sometimes getting snoozy but always attempting something different. The highlight of experimentation is the very Tortoise-like instrumental "Faces and People," with its circular rhythms, squeaky sound loops, and world-beat percussion. The tune corkscrews around Rob Mazurek (of Chicago Underground Duo) with blips of electronic noises as he interjects long sighs of coronet. It sounds like spontaneous group improvisation, with each player cozy in his individual role, helping to create a hypnotic groove.

-- David Simutis

Enemy Mine
Enemy Mine
(K Records)

Enemy Mine is determined to change the definition of drum 'n' bass. The brainchild of bassists Mike Kunka (of infamous noise-assault duo godheadSilo) and Zak Sally (of slowcore pioneers Low), Enemy Mine is a study in conflicting dynamics. Blending the speaker-blowing, chaotic aggression of godheadSilo with the studied minimalist architecture of Low is no small task; often this record seems like a tug of war between two polar stylists. Drummer Dan Sasaki is the Geneva of this unpredictable summit, holding together the push-pull magnetics of the two bassists.

The opening track, "Apartmentalize," is most definitely Low territory, an instrumental track in which the restraint of the slow tempo propels the bassists to play with a pinpoint intensity detectable only by the force and volume of each note. The following song, "TRCR," is recognizably godheadSilo; Kunka's squealing voice is too distinct here for the comparison not to be made, while the pummeling drum 'n' bass assault is manic and aggressive enough to stand alongside the junior high death-metal of fellow K Records outfit Karp.

"The We're All Friends Club" is the first track on the EP where Enemy Mine's duality is solidly welded into a singular new entity. The melody builds from atmospheric rumblings into controlled spasmodic outbursts, with Sally's morbidly affected vocals lending a dark thoughtfulness to the song. The next tune, "I've Got the Ice in Me," is the record's most experimental and noteworthy track, a grating ambient excursion into the aesthetics of reverb and negative space.

"Dent Everything" and "Evaporate" both show Enemy Mine exploring the various facets of the newly established collaboration, the former an exercise in melody with switch-hitting vocals that showcase the two singers' contrasting idiosyncrasies and the latter a short pseudoelectronic instrumental track, a tongue-in-cheek experiment in human automation.

The closer, "No Comply," is the volatile combination's most fully realized moment -- a full-throttle rocker that implodes into minimalist plodding until it combusts again, Kunka's vocals seething with a sarcasm and rage that rarely show in his godheadSilo work. As a study in opposing dynamics, Enemy Mine succeeds greatly; each song's dynamic equation computes differently but always with a unique output that neither Kunka's nor Sally's original outfit would construct. As a cerebral, bass-heavy, aggro listening experience, Enemy Mine rocks with a rumbling power sure to frighten purveyors of the other drum 'n' bass.

-- Brendan Kelley

 
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