‘Runner’ is the tenth album from Chicago’s The Sea And Cake. When we last heard from them, courtesy of ‘The Moonlight Butterfly’, they delivered six songs in just over half an hour; nevertheless it was pop music with a progressive, experimental edge. ‘Runner’ is a longer record but the songs are more concise and emphasise their pop credentials still further, even if it’s pop influenced by non-pop genres such as jazz and Krautrock.
For this record, frontman Sam Prekop recorded the synthesizer parts to the songs and then the remainder of the band were tasked with shaping them, improving them and – in some cases – rejecting them. The end results are impressive though and represent the cohesion honed from nearly twenty years of recording together. Opening tracks ‘On And On’ and ‘Harps’ are as good as the group have ever been. The former rides on its relentless rhythms whereas the second witnesses the perfect marriage between Prekop’s contented sighs and quietly insistent synths.
A smooth sound is maintained until the mildly rough and ready ‘Skyscraper’, where guitars let rip and even Prekop sounds unusually urgent but the balance is soon restored by an acoustic number called ‘Harbor Bridges’, which provides the most gentle moment on an album that certainly seeks to caress rather than alarm the ears of the listeners. The album ends with the title track and is a return to the never more languid times of 2000’s ‘Oui’ album.
One could argue that, overall, not too much has changed in the world of The Sea And Cake and they would have a point. Their songs still glide along as if it were always summertime in Chicago but beneath the sunny exterior there is some real brainiac pop genius at work.