The soft-spoken nature of The Moonlight Butterfly, the ninth album from The Sea and Cake, is kind of hard to shake. Sure, these are pop songs that work their way inside and stay there. They aren't built of the sturdiest stuff at the outset - or so it seems.
Here's the guitar interplay of Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt to anchor us. And there's the rhythm of Eric Claridge (bass) and John McEntire (drums) to drive us a little further. Yet all the while, Prekop tries to climb in our heads with his hushed, nearly whispered vocals. And the songs roll out, desperately simple melodically and yet irrepresibly magical.
The Moonlight Butterfly is kind of a mini-album. There are six songs on it and it finishes flying after about 33 minutes or so, so it's a mini-album, I guess, but it's a lot less "mini" than a lot of other albums.
Recorded at Soma studios in Chicago by McEntire, this is an album of poise and consideration. Everything about it feels organic but ultimately careful, as though there were a concerted effort to play things close to the chest. In the end, the approach works wonders and The Sea and Cake manage a mystical soundscape that is simultaneously soothing and engrossing.
Part of the process in transforming what are, at least in skeletal form, simple pop tunes into soundscapes lies in letting the instrumental portions expand and fly where they wish. Prekop, Prewitt, Claridge, and McEntire show no interest in laying off the jams. Instead, they let the melody course through their instruments and through extended sequences without words, without force.
While some bands push, The Sea and Cake hold back. Shit, they even hold off.
It's that holding off approach that lends itself to something like the title track. Electronically-tinged as it is, the piece still grows out of an organic space that the two guitars from the previous track ("Lyric") left open. The door ajar to new possibilities, "The Moonlight Butterfly" pulses and flutters about until you close your eyes and see heaven. Magic.
Ten minutes are spent on "Inn Keeping," a tune that glides with similar effortlessness. This time its does take guidance from some delicate acoustic guitar, but there's an insistent racing beat beneath that keeps us planted. The synth, that little beast driving the song, becomes the foundation to build from. Through it all, Prekop reassures us - but quietly, softly.
The Moonlight Butterfly is a journey for The Sea and Cake. A creative marvel that revels in expansive sound, this mini-album (or whatever) is a mystical flight that proves immersive and ultimately enlightening.