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6/17/2004

Music > Music Feature

OLD MEN, THE SEA (& CAKE)

 

At that time in the '80s when loud, guitar-driven postpunk acts such as Naked Raygun and Big Black defined what was then known as the "Chicago sound," four guys from Illinois started an unassuming band called Shrimp Boat: singer/guitarist Sam Prekop, guitarist Ian Schneller, bassist David Kroll and drummer Eric Claridge. The quartet fused elements of jazz, bluegrass, jam rock, dub and whatever else they could squeeze into a five-minute span to create a sound totally unlike anything heard in Chi-town – or the rest of the country – at the time.

Anyone familiar with the group already knows that they were responsible for birthing the whole "post-rock" genre. Founding members Prekop and Claridge went on to form watery indie-rock monolith The Sea and Cake; Brad Wood (second drummer after Claridge's departure) became one of the most sought-after producers of the early '90s, helming records for Liz Phair, Sunny Day Real Estate and Smashing Pumpkins.

What set SB apart from their contemporaries was the quartet's willingness to assimilate just about any kind of musical style or instrument into its music, regardless of whether the style or instrument was a comfortable fit or not – its precarious amalgamations peppered open-ended jazz structures with banjos, ramshackle rhythms and blue-light-special lyrics. Often what resulted was long-winded scat and skronkfests, but sometimes SB would pull something truly amazing out of the din. It's those gems that gained them a small yet devoted following, unleashing a slew of copycat acts.

Something Grand collects over three hours of unreleased tracks spanning SB's eight-year career. Disc one gathers together the lo-fi four-track recordings made in the group's practice space between 1986-1988; disc two collects demos made at Wood's Idful Music studio, live recordings and radio broadcasts between 1989 and 1992; and disc three nets material intended for an album prior to the band's dissolution in '93. (The first 2000 copies of Grand will also include a bonus fourth full-length of further unreleased material).

What's made it on is a pretty accurate representation of what SB was about. Unfortunately, it's nothing that can't be attained from listening to the four albums already released. Why a label would want to put out what is essentially an anthology of outtakes defies reason. Perhaps they're trying to cash in before The Sea and Cake's next recording finally evaporates the line between post-rock and easy listening and everyone starts listening to Yanni.

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