Chicago's post-rock cabal is sometimes unfairly dismissed for doing little more than cannily dressing up stale, sterile prog-rock, but the best acts (Tortoise, Gastr del Sol) deserve more credit than that. Thanks to these bands, esoteric and even experimental music has suddenly become fashionable. Performers as disparate as This Heat, John Fahey, Miles Davis, and countless Krautrock groups are once again in vogue, not that many of them were that popular to begin with. Perhaps no single band has synthesized all these elements as sublimely as The Sea And Cake, a group made up of former or current members of Tortoise, Coctails, and Shrimp Boat. The group's impressive pedigree may imply a collective vision, but singer-guitarist Sam Prekop's first solo record indicates that he may just be the glue that makes The Sea And Cake cohere. One of The Sea And Cake's most intriguing traits is its occasional references to cool Brazilian pop, a trait also apparent on Prekop's self-titled solo debut. With his plaintive voice and gentle guitar playing, he makes a great ersatz Jobim, and his expressive bandmates (bassist Josh Abrams, drummer Chad Taylor, guitarist Archer Prewitt, and X-factor producer and arranger Jim O'Rourke) know just how to make the music sing with a breezy beauty. "Showrooms" and "Practice Twice" are exceedingly tropical and nearly hypnotic. Elsewhere, the jazzy music drifts and sways more than it swings, and thanks to the avant-rock background of the participants, there are plenty of surprises and left turns. The downside to Chicago's incestuous independent scene is that, since the bands often feature the same musicians, many releases sound similar. Indeed, the instrumental tracks on Sam Prekop are not unlike moments from the last Gastr del Sol disc, Camoufleur, and, for that matter, thanks to Prekop's voice and guitar work, the rest of the album isn't too far removed from a Sea And Cake record. But the post-rock renaissance is strong enough to support all these musical explorations simultaneously, and if more crossovers create work as entrancing as Prekop's, the city should keep up all the inbreeding.

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