Since emerging from the fertile ’90s post-rock scene in Chicago, the Sea and Cake have consistently redefined themselves, exploring spacious, thoughtful rock to mellow bossa novas and analog-synth-drenched pop. On the careful craftsmen’s eleventh release, Any Day, drummer John McEntire fulfilled kit duties as well as his typical engineering, producing, and mixing roles with the band. As the group acclimated itself to its new trio lineup following the departure of original bassist Eric Claridge, McEntire also found himself either playing or programming bass throughout the effort.
McEntire explains that the band’s approach to writing evolved over years since its inception in the mid-1990s. “We developed this methodology whereby Sam [Prekop, guitar and vocals] basically comes up with the skeleton of the song,” McEntire says. “Sometimes he and Archer [Prewitt, guitar, keys, and vocals] get together beforehand just to mold it a little more, but usually I’ll get together with those guys at the tracking sessions. We’ll start working out tempos and feels and capture everything as we go. Typically, four to six takes in, we’ll get somewhere and think, Okay, this is pretty happening now.”
Tracked at various locations throughout Chicago and mixed during McEntire’s relocation from the Midwest to Northern California, Any Day is devoid of the rich, analog synth textures commonly heard on the band’s ten previous efforts, and features a more minimalist rock approach. Contrary to what one might expect from a band that takes a music-before-vocals approach to writing, there’s a compositional clarity that runs throughout the album’s ten tracks. “That’s the really interesting thing,” McEntire says. “Vocals are the absolute last thing that happens. Sam writes all the lyrics and vocal melodies after we have all the basic tracking done. And he often picks up on rhythms in the drums, for instance, and mimics or uses them in different ways when he’s writing the vocal parts.”
Though McEntire’s drum tones vary slightly from song to song, he generally used a consistent setup while tracking Any Day. “I don’t think I really changed much aside from a few cymbals,” he says. “I don’t know if I changed the snare at all. As I was mixing the album, the overall sound of the drums was markedly different from track to track. There were different things I did with muting and stuff like that, but nothing outrageous, so I can’t really attribute that to anything. I have to admit that I use samples from time to time, not as full-on replacements, but more for additional tones.”
Any Day’s standout moments include McEntire’s soft touch and warm tones on “Paper Window,” his straight-ahead rock drive on “Day Moon” and “Circle,” and his drums’ roomy ambiance and warm kick sound on “Starling.” The Sea and Cake will be on a stateside and European tour that lasts through June.
John McEntire endorses C&C drums and Cymbal & Gong cymbals. He uses Aquarian heads, Vater sticks, and DW and Canopus hardware, as well as Morfbeats and Keplinger accessories and Sunhouse, Nord, and Roland electronics.
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