The Moonlight Butterfly is officially the ninth album by The Sea And Cake, all issued via Thrill Jockey, although at six tracks long it may be more generous to consider this latest release as an EP. Musical genres and movements may have come and gone since their debut in 1994 but The Moonlight Butterfly offers proof of how their core sound has fundamentally remained defiantly, almost ruthlessly unchanging over the years. Sam Prekop’s feather-light, soft-tipped vocals still grace the album and musically the band follow a similar path with gossamer, shiny guitar and synth textures abounding.
Opening tracks Covers and Lyrics see their trademark sound quickly established, with the use of circular rhythms and repeated motifs still placing them closest to Stereolab and Tortoise (unsurprising given that John McEntire still plays drums for the band). Both contain a meandering, inoffensive cadence but the listener is forced to work hard to extract any discernable melody.
The instrumental title track however does show signs of progression, five minutes of bubbling synth-led electronica that unexpectedly brings to mind Kraftwerk. It is a refreshing brief change in sound and suggests an alternative avenue that the band would be well advised to investigate further. It offers plenty of scope for potentially successful reinvention.
Yet, on this occasion the band choose not to pursue this option. Inn Keeping follows, clocking in over 10 minutes, and sees layers being slowly peeled back to reveal the subtlest of tweaks to their sound. Final track Monday benefits from some decorative acoustic guitar and sounds vaguely euphonic, but unfortunately peters out without making a memorable impression.
The Moonlight Butterfly is unlikely to win the band any new converts, much of it struggling to fully make itself heard and forge its own identity. It may be hard to actively dislike but similarly difficult to love or champion. Previous albums such as Oui and One Bedroom seemed to possess a more tangible focus and direction. If we look beyond the tentative mid-album foray into electronica we can see a band hindered by a narrow, restrictive and undeviating sound. Maybe it is time for them to move out of the comfortable hinterland they have occupied for the last decade to seek musical pastures new.