Steadfast patrons of the "quality over quantity" school of thought, the Sea and Cake's album release schedule may very well rival that of the Olympic games -- but their albums are always worth the wait. Of course, when you stop to consider that the group's membership includes two well-established solo artists (Archer Prewitt and Sam Prekop) as well as Tortoise taskmaster John McEntire, the lengthy stretch between albums becomes much more understandable, if not acceptable.
Nearly three years in the making, One Bedroom doesn't herald a change in the quartet's direction so much as it deftly encapsulates the state of underground music circa 2003. It does this without falling prey to the tender trappings inherent in any of the genres it so effortlessly co-opts -- it embraces dance culture without forsaking it, utilizes traditional rock structures without prejudice and confounds the pop idiom with alarming clarity and unabashed sophistication.
The group's fusion of experimentation and pop savvy, cultivated over the course of five albums, has been refined even further this time out, resulting in a sound that's sonically complex but firmly grounded in Prekop's nouveau pop sensibility. "Interiors" and the "Hotel Tell" are crunchy nuggets of brittle pop abstraction, absolutely post-modern in their experimental decadence, while more subdued offerings like "Four Corners" and "Mr. F" not only recall the group's earliest work, but that of Seattle sadcore champions Seldom.
While certainly deserving of plaudits, One Bedroom arrives as the group's least jazz-centric album to date. That's both a blessing and a curse; while the disc's increased emphasis on electronic textures, balanced songwriting and non-linear production is a welcome breath of fresh air, it lends itself to a feeling of sameness that becomes increasingly apparent as the record progresses. At times, the album reads as single seamless whole; not even the group's downbeat take on David Bowie's "Sound & Vision" really stands out in the sea of trickling beats and keyboard flourishes. However, that's far from an insurmountable flaw, and the band struggles back valiantly. Before long, Prekop's dolor-as-delight vocals and Eric Claridge's elegantly fluid bass work emerge to catapult the album out of its pale gray abyss and into the pastel-hued firmament.
It's not quite pop utopia, but One Bedroom is a meticulously crafted paean to insecurity and loneliness. Was it truly worth the wait? You decide.