The Sea And Cake: The Biz (1995)

Listening to the Sea And Cake is one of those experiences that always leaves me feeling a little out of sorts, the records both soothing and disorienting, displaced from time. But since stumbling across the Chicago band back in the mid-90s, just as I was getting into Pavement and Luna (between which the Sea And Cake seemed to nestle comfortably), I've leaned on their records from time to time as a way to conjure up that askew indie vibe.

The Biz is their third LP, but the first one I picked up and the one that resonates most for me, even if some more recent releases, when they upped the fidelity and introduced more electronic sounds, are easier listens. The band merges languid, unpredictable indie rock from the Stephen Malkmus playbook with a jazzy, early 70s post-folk sound that conjures the likes of Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. Lots of odd time shifts, angular but clean guitars; weird free-jazz explorations yet still tethered to buzzy alt.rock grooves.

The opening title track sets the tone, an insistent guitar motif that sounds like it would fit in on a Pavement or Built to Spill album, yet with an overall vocal and musical aesthetic that feels more like a downtown jazz club circa '72. Weird stuff. The follow-up, "Leeora," is a much more straightforward 90s indie rock jam, a return to earth before launching into a bit of a jarring romp. A few songs serve more as showpieces for the band's virtuoso (but not showy) musical chops, like the instrumental "Escort," which comes across like an indie jazz-rock band attempting to play Rush; at the same time, songs like "The Transaction" show their ability to craft a fairly straight, mellow indie pop-rock tune. The album repeatedly sounds like it's about to lull you into a comforting, easy swing, then shifts into some jagged tangent. Which for me makes it fascinating, though clearly not intended for someone seeking a more traditional verse-chorus-verse radio-friendly structure.

They continue working, reliably issuing albums every few years that broaden the palette with keyboards and better production but without changing the basic blueprint; 2018's Any Day is as great as anything else they've recorded (and probably a less challenging record from a straight indie rock standpoint); while frontman Sam Prekop has released a number of albums which range from straight Sea And Cake-like albums to experimental ambient projects.

Here's an audio rip of "Station in the Valley":
Here's "The Biz" live:
...and "Leeora" live: