The Sea and Cake

One Bedroom

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Solo careers and outside interests halted the Sea and Cake's momentum late in the '90s, but each time the quartet returns it's a boon for anyone who enjoys clean, efficient indie rock -- a potential fan base ranging from Saint Etienne to Lambchop to Belle & Sebastian. Only the band's second record in the past five years, One Bedroom updates a previously trademarked sound only slightly; the usual drum shuffles are occasionally replaced by the indie version of a dance beat (usually an under-performing drum machine or samples), while Sam Prekop refines his breathy, upper-register vocals and abstract songwriting with an eye to pop music. The opener, "Four Corners," sets it off with a special grace, floating in on a wave of sublime synth atmospherics reminiscent of late-'70s Cluster, while the tidiest rhythm section in indie rock (bassist Eric Claridge and drummer John McEntire) paves the way for a breezy Prekop vocal that would have sounded fragmentary and undeveloped in the context of any other band, but is pure brilliance here. "Left Side Clouded" is similarly charming, beginning with neat acoustic strumming framed by an angular bassline and ending in a restrained guitar flameout. The highlight "Shoulder Length" is a perfect record for a crisp spring day, synths and guitar feedback humming like bees over a bouncy, swinging beat. While the accompaniment is always thoughtful and inventive, Prekop's vocal idiosyncrasies tend to be a double-edged sword, delightful on the good songs but only accentuating the dreariness of failed experiments like "Le Baron" or "Try Nothing." Fortunately, those moments are few and far between; the group sounds supremely confident throughout One Bedroom, even indulging in a rare cover for the closer, David Bowie's icy "Sound & Vision," a perfect fit.

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