Sam Prekop's Painterly Signature Looms Large on 'Comma'

Sam Prekop, he of post-rock acolytes the Sea and Cake and formerly of the esoteric Shrimp Boat, can write a mean, mean song with fluid guitar lines that will knock off your socks. On his masterful solo debut – a self-titled LP released via Thrill Jockey in 1999, some 20 years ago, if you can believe it – Prekop crafted bridges and verses with guitars so soft and tender, they were practically buttery. However, in recent years, he has switched his idiom to composing with modular synthesizers, toying with electronic nuances, triggers, synthetic textures, and sometimes, chance. While 2015’s The Republic had some interesting melodic turns and phrasing, Prekop’s voice, or signature, if you will, is written much larger on a new LP. On Comma, out this summer (again) via Thrill Jockey, Prekop provides a beat and a backbone to synths that bridge the experimental with the accessible. And it makes for an interesting journey.

Comma surely is not at a loss for ideas. On “The New Last”, which offers a kind of brushed hi-hat and occasional kick-drum backdrop, Prekop paints with swirls of psychedelic color but still manages to reign in the proceedings, lending them a calm, contained feel. On “Approaching”, and the closer, “Above Our Heads”, he flirts with the sounds of machines themselves whirring and clicking, a self-referential flair in the air. There are songs on the new disc that are densely constructed (“Summer Places” whose pithy refrains drop hints at Tropicalia) to songs like “Circle Line”, which are so ethereal at times they almost seem to float off the stereo all together.

Prekop being Prekop, though, his best work resonates strongest when it taps into that emotional underbelly of things. Now, I don’t know what the title of the exquisite “September Remember” references, but based on the somber and subdued palette of the music, it’s surely in the realm of memory and regret, two themes any post-rocker worth their salt has plowed. Elsewhere, Prekop relishes in simple charms – the buoyant joy of movement one feels with their whole body when riding a subway (“Park Line”) or, maybe, the resolve of hindsight or after-thought (the too-short title track).

Yes, there are songs on the disc that lean more experimental than narrative-oriented, and here Prekop can sometimes border on more lackluster terrain. I’m thinking mostly of “Never Met”, which shows great promise but gets lost in its own conceits. “Wax Wing”, similarly, hints at great things but never fully sticks the landing.

In addition to what he’s lent to the indie-rock canon, Prekop has made a fair dent in the art world as a painter and photographer – and one can hear those careful instincts of composition and framing on Comma. The songs clearly are mapped out, composed (in several definitions of the word), and know where they’re going. Though some of the instrumental tracks on the new LP lack the emotive heft of his guitar-based work (I, for one, miss that expressive voice of his), they make up for the lack of six strings and all their trappings with majestic textures and colors. Comma, in the end, is Prekop’s fullest realization yet of his Brian Eno-like quest to toe the line between avant leanings and pop or rock narrative tendencies. Still, want to hear him strum? That’s why God blessed us with the Sea and Cake.