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The Mountain Goats - In League With Dragons Music Album Reviews

John Darnielle explores the humanity of wizards, sports legends, Ozzy Osbourne, and other folk heroes and beacons of hope.
“Old wizards and old athletes are the same,” John Darnielle said during a Facebook live stream at the headquarters of Wizards of the Coast, the game company that owns Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. He was there to announce the latest record from the Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons, and his rhetoric was appropriately fanciful: “They were once magic,” he offered by way of explanation.

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The Sea and Cake - Any Day Music Album Reviews

Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind Music Album Reviews
On their first album in six years, the post-rock stalwarts bring new urgency to their signature gliding rhythms, jazz-inflected guitar lines, and analog synth tones.

The Sea and Cake have been so consistent and so singular for so long that the words “taken for granted” now turn up in their reviews as much as “Chicago” or “post-rock.” Their albums do seem to blur together, with each record subjecting the band’s signature components—John McEntire’s gliding rhythms, Archer Prewitt’s jazz-inflected guitar lines, and analog synth tones warmer than a wool sweater—to slight shifts in texture, personnel or backing instruments. But the overall quality of their discography makes a strong argument against the idea that artists must amass a canon of releases that build upon each other in linear fashion. Like a prescription refill, a new Sea and Cake album offers a fresh dose of the same soothing medicine.

But there’s a new urgency to their 11th full-length, Any Day, which comes after a six-year absence. Continuing the Sea and Cake’s tradition of instantly immersive album openers, “Cover the Mountain” springs into action as though the long-dormant band has just been zapped by a defibrillator. Sam Prekop cuts immediately to the swooning chorus as McEntire locks into a brisk, galloping beat. That momentum carries them into “I Should Care,” an equally dazzling follow up whose jangly riff and gently stomping backbeat are as close as this band has ever gotten to ’70s power pop.

The Sea and Cake’s post-millennial releases often saw them embedding electronic production tics into their songcraft—to the point where latter-day singles like “Weekend” and “Harps” could almost pass for Cut Copy festival jams. Any Day strips away many of those flourishes. During the band’s extended absence, they parted ways with longtime bassist Eric Claridge, and while the multitalented McEntire subbed in for him in the studio (with McEntire’s fellow Tortoise compadre Doug McCombs taking over for live shows), they’ve also filled out the space in their sound with more naturalistic elements. The title track’s breezy bossa nova gradually cascades into a quiet storm, thanks to some subtly powerful flute and clarinet work from Brian Wilson associate Paul Von Mertens. The nocturnal near-instrumental “Paper Window” forges a different sort of Beach Boys connection as it blossoms into a loopy psychedelic pastorale with wordless harmonies that suggest a post-rock Pet Sounds. “These Falling Arms” is the sort of lovely, acoustic number that might have soundtracked a slow dance at an Enchantment Under the Sea-themed prom in 1963.

With Sam Prekop on vocals, though, a Sea and Cake album is genetically incapable of sounding like anything other than a Sea and Cake album. His distinctive, soulful sighs are forever the warm breaths spreading and receding across the music’s glassy surface, unmistakable and ephemeral all the same. Even as the band locks into familiar motorik grooves on “Starling” and “Circle,” Prekop’s elliptical lyrics, at once intensely intimate and deliberately evasive, keep the songs from settling into a soft-rock cul de sac. “I don’t know what clarity/Feels without setting free,” he sings on the latter track. It’s a suitably cryptic line that nonetheless perfectly summarizes the Sea and Cake’s long history—an eternal glide toward the haziest of horizons.

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