Sam Prekop may have made his name as the singer in Chicago outfit The Sea And Cake but since 1999 his solo career has run concurrently to that of his band, averaging an album every five years. The Republic is his fourth solo album and follows 2010’s Old Punch Card in his exclusive pursuit of music created from the modular synthesiser. The album falls into two parts – the first nine tracks are named sequentially after the album title and form a body of work in their own right before being followed by a selection of other tracks that sees Prekop’s modular synth immersion take on a looser and more open nature.
The first nine tracks first appeared as a score for a video installation by David Hartt that focused on some of the social and economic consequences of urban planning in both Athens and Detroit. The film was shown during 2014 at the David Nolan Gallery in New York and the artistic association is one that sits comfortably with Prekop’s work and wider perception. It’s a suitably abstract source of inspiration for what is, on the whole, quite an abstract piece of music.
If there’s any conceptual angle to be inferred from The Republic beyond its role as a video soundtrack it could be as a musical parallel to the notion of a ring fenced, self-sufficient state in which Prekop gives an element of power back to the modular synthesiser. Prekop’s promotion of musical minutiae to the forefront of the album follows a similar path to that laid down on Old Punch Card although the sounds here perhaps flow a little more cohesively. Prekop employed the modular synthesiser on Runner, The Sea And Cake’s last album, but there’s nothing quite as warm or conventional here. Over half of the tracks clock in under two minutes and there’s a sense that they’ve deliberately been kept short, in order to keep the ideas as concentrated as possible.
Ambient washes and rustles define the early stages of the album, synths seeming to quietly emerge from the morning mist on The Republic 1. The quietly fluctuating tones and displaced synths of The Republic 3 segue into The Republic 4, offering an example of the self-contained, miniature explorations that populate the album. The Republic 5 meanwhile starts off by assuming a field recording like quality before taking on a more jarring sound. Ideas drift in and out throughout The Republic 6,7 & 8 – the merest of themes being allowed to fall away before being discreetly resurrected and resumed. A strong sense of control pervades these tracks – something that contrasts with the pieces that feature in the second half.
Weather Vane arguably signals the true end of The Republic, offering the first presence of overt beats and rhythm. The Loom meanwhile has a vividness and shifting lustre that stands out. It’s also not too distanced from some of the sounds heard on R Plus Seven, the last album by Oneohtrix Point Never. The second half of the album reaches an engaging, lucid peak on Invisible. These tracks have a greater immediacy and work well as individual pieces. The Republic may not be an album that will make headlines but it shows a musician immersed in his art achieving a real consistency and equilibrium of sound.