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The Moonlight Butterfly
Thrill Jockey
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: May 10, 2011
By Michael Snyder August 17, 2011

The Chicago indie band’s ninth album, The Moonlight Butterfly is a laid-back and cool affair.  Producing music of subtlety and nuance, The Sea and Cake sounds suave, a bit continental or cosmopolitan.  Sam Prekop’s trademark vocals are wonderfully light and lissome, always a standout feature of the band.  The quartet is comprised of some notable musicians: drummer and producer John McEntire is a keystone of the influential post-rock ensemble Tortoise and has worked closely with Stereolab, among many other notable musicians; guitarist and keyboardist Archer Prewitt pursues a solo career and is a cartoonist and illustrator; vocalist and guitarist Sam Prekop has released a few solo albums; and bassist Eric Claridge — who played with Prekop in Shrimp Boat from the mid-1980s through 1993 — is an artist, and drew the elephant in profile that graces this album’s cover.

Using space artfully, The Sea and Cake draw from lounge, indie-pop, jazz, krautrock, and analogue electronica.  On The Moonlight Butterfly they quickly draw in the listener with “Covers,” which uses an insistent, hypnotic beat and slightly phased, spacey guitars.  “Covers” flows nicely into the oneiric “Lyric,” which psychedelically shifts between two jazzy chords.  Like the opener, “Lyric” is also atmospheric but gives a sense of constant, steady motion.  The dreamy “Inn Keeping” is another lovely track in that vein, propelled by John McEntire’s steady, controlled motorik beat.

Using vintage synthesizers and a play of repetition and difference, the drum-less but pulsating title track is an appealing homage to 1970s German electronic groups Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.  The Chicago-referencing “Up on the North Shore” is a breezy and handsome indie-pop song with an awesome rideout — by rights, it should be on the radio.   The closer, “Monday,” a mellow, acoustic guitar-based tune, is reminiscent of Air’s “All I Need” from their debut album Moon Safari (1998).  Sometimes I am reminded of another French band, Phoenix, if they were more chilled-out, or Blonde Redhead’s later albums on 4AD Records.  Although different in overall approach, these bands are all sophisticated, thoughtfully-produced, and featuring standout singers.  Oddly enough, the wistfulness and the vocal style that Prekop employs recalls the graceful, esoteric 1990s band Butterfly Child, led by Belfast’s Joe Cassidy.

My only and minor complaint is, with only six songs here (albeit one is ten-and-a-half minutes long), one might be left craving a bit more at the end of this nevertheless fine album. The Moonlight Butterfly is a strong and enjoyable collection of songs that, with the exception of the title track, bears the clear imprint of The Sea and Cake.

Visit: The Sea and Cake | Thrill Jockey
Purchase: Insound | eMusic