Who likes insurance salesman, am I right? Sticklers. Wet blankets. Grey-suited dullards. Premium hiking nogoodniks. Aside from that last one there, I have no doubt this is kind of how a lot of people see The Sea and Cake. Even though they've tasted the good (bad?) favour of being a 'band of the moment,' that was a long, long time ago. Since that time, the band have soldiered onward reliably, producing a ten-song album's worth of tastefully crafted music about once every two or three years (you can throw an EP or two in there as well). And minus the addition of electronics to their DNA on 1997's high point The Fawn, they've changed as little as possible in their approach. If other bands exist to stir up trouble, break conventions, or incite you to hedonistic flights of sexual and drunken abandon, this pleasant Chicago quartet merely show up with the dry, clockwork regularity of a census bureau: "Good day. Just checking to make sure that the dimensions of your home that we have on file remain up-to-date. Any new additions to the family? Is that a new car?"
But if the sheer grid-like consistency with which The Sea and Cake make music is an easy target for ridicule, it's also, like a census, an inaccurate representation of its actual value. I'm somewhat half-seriously reminded of Ed Helms' character Ted Lippy's speech in the film Cedar Rapids, wherein he naively but passionately describes his childhood admiration for local insurance agents working to help his family after his father's death. In his mind, the insurance salesman is a guardian of the people, fighting an unglamourous and lovingly unrequited battle on behalf of the general public to make certain that their stability and wealth is well-protected. Which, in a perverse (but entirely heartfelt) way is how I see The Sea and Cake in my life.
At times, the dogged determination with which this band refuses to change one iota of their music is frustrating and even confusing. But then, I stop and think about how many times their music has provided a safe harbour for my ears—a haven wherein their impeccable tastes for jazz/soul/pop amalgams, gorgeously realized musicianship, and subtle invocations of the heart and mind have never put a single foot wrong. Ever.
How, when other bands have foolishly pursued flights of greedy ambition and self-indulgence, these gentlemen have understood their duty to the public and delivered on their initial promise to them, over and over again.
And how, despite it sounding an awful lot like all of their other albums, I sure am playing the hell out of Runner. Again and again.
Simply put, I am now, as I have ever been since 1995, in good hands with The Sea and Cake. I dare say that few other bands could be so predictable and so wonderful all at once.