Sam Prekop is known to most as the singer and songwriter of The Sea and Cake. He is a painter of some renown, a photographer and in addition he has released two solo albums of pop songs infused with his own blend of African and Brazilian guitar rhythms. Old Punch Card, his first solo effort since 2005, takes a dramatically unexpected turn away from either of these paths. Prekop described the move thus, “I’d have to say this record is pretty much unlike anything else I’ve done. There’s some relation to music I made for my book “Photographs” but really only in instrumentation. The intro to The Sea and Cake’s David Bowie cover of “Sound and Vision”, on One Bedroom is an early precedent. The most significant difference, is that I’ve left the confines of “song” structure.” The LP and CD each come in an edition of hand painted covers. “In painting the covers I found an appropriate shorthand to describing the music or re-imagining it. Start with nothing and without deduction an image appears reflecting only itself, the music arrived similarly.” said Prekop.
Taking inspiration from early music concrete and electronic music, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Nuno Canavarro, Raymond Scott, David Behrman, and free improvisation, Old Punch Card is a beautifully noisy, jagged, yet stately album of synthesizer music. The ideas and implementation of Old Punch Card (the album title alluding to the electronic, faintly mechanic origins of the music) were the result of an entirely new challenge: to do something completely different from anything else he’s ever created. To facilitate this end, Prekop implemented a series of strict guidelines for the recording of the album. No vocals, no guitar (though he slipped in this regard on one track), and no beats. Most of the sound material is generated by a modular synthesizer. By its very nature, it excels at some things and not at others. It’s very difficult to play a conventional chord, while on the other hand, it excels at creating completely unanticipated sounds and is rather effective when it comes to “chance” composing strategies.
Each piece is in a travelogue form, all of them starting somewhere only to end somewhere else entirely. The means of transition between the elements purpose the compositions, often starting scrambled with agitation, then resting on a mechanical pattern that proves to be serenely predictable. The title track is a perfect example of this transition. “The Silhouettes” has perhaps the most tangible melodic arc to it, and the melody was guided in response to the rhythmic drone that’s underlying.
The album was recorded entirely in Prekop’s home studio and monitored on headphones, allowing him to focus on the texture and dynamic of the music. Every nuance was hyper exposed and therefore had to be considered. Prekop would spend perhaps a week or more generating raw material ideas on the synthesizer, recording everything of even slight interest. Usually some element would stand out as more diverting than another and would lead him in that direction. At some point he’d then look for “sound snippets” that he found especially appealing, extract them, and then start “arranging” these “sound snippets” and then loosely build from there while also trying to stay alert for “happy accidents”, chance combinations, and unexpected melody. All of the pieces were recorded between February 2009 and March 2010 but the bulk of the material was recorded in the last three winter months. The end result is a record of strangely serene beauty, leading the listener down a myriad of otherworldly paths, all the while serving as a unique path for the musician himself.
Sam Prekop will be on tour this fall with The Sea and Cake. The band will be touring the US extensively with Broken Social Scene, whose new album features a song with vocal and guitar contributions from Prekop.