As a founding member of the Coctails and the Sea and Cake -- not to mention his amazing body of work as a cartoonist and a painter -- Archer Prewitt has proved himself to be one of Chicago's finest stalwart indie sons. Sparking the retro-lounge revival long before it became trite, Prewitt has consistently found a balance between fey melodies and angular rhythms. With his third full LP, Three (nice title, eh?), he forgoes the stripped-down personal sketches offered on his previous release, the EP Gerroa Songs, and returns to the lush symphonic production swells of 2000's White Sky. In doing so, Prewitt completes the process of jettisoning any remainder of his more eccentric and artsy leanings in favor of full-bore '70s AM radio pop.
Thrill Jockey fanatics need not fear: Even if you loathe Steely Dan and the Carpenters, you'll be hard-pressed not to fall under the sway of at least a handful of tracks here. The melodies are too infectious to resist, and Prewitt's production work has evolved into a symphonic beast of staggering proportions. Harpsichords, flutes, cellos, mellotrons -- it's pretentious as hell, but each bit works, adding to the overall feel of each song and moving them toward a greater emotional whole.
Three is chock full of these guilty pleasures. "Two Can Play" rocks like a Burt Bacharach-penned song about getting along well with others that would have been right at home on PBS's Electric Company. "Gifts of Love" contains giddily stupid la-dee-la and doot-doot harmonies, evenly balanced by closing orchestral swirls. "Behind Your Sun" is overtly grandiose, morphing from a slow, moody burner into a horn-filled celebratory Renaissance Faire madrigal. The only real clunker is "No Defense," a sprawling, multipart epic about aging that opens as a rocker, changes to a high-speed sing-along, then shifts again to slow and sappy refrains of "Oh babe/Hold me/You've got to act your age," complete with pouting female back-up singers that make it feel more like Godspell than the intended soul-music mimicry.
Thankfully, there's a wide range of material on this record, just like the clouds that adorn the album's front and back covers -- one containing a pair of lips, the other pouring rain. Corny? You bet. Overly earnest? Like an emo teen. Wonderful? Without a doubt. Unlike the Sea and Cake front man Sam Prekop, who seems to be stuck in a breathy, sputtering rut, Prewitt continues to fall further away from the faux-jazz twitterings that have defined much of his earlier work -- and to good measure.
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