In the music spotlight: The Sea and Cake

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The Sea and Cake | Heather Cantrell Photo

This month sees the welcome return of one of Chicago’s most influential and beloved indie-rock bands. The Sea and Cake will perform at the Empty Bottle in celebration of “Any Day,” the quartet’s 11th album and first since 2012’s “Runner.” The band’s last hometown show occurred in 2013 at the Vic Theatre, while supporting synth-pop artist Toro y Moi. The Empty Bottle will provide an intimate setting for fans to bask in The Sea and Cake’s heady guitar-based soundscapes, as well as offering familiar stomping grounds for the band. The quartet has performed at the venue since its early days in 1994.

Frontman Sam Prekop establishes the tone of the band’s new songs with his arid vocals and impressionistic, questing lyrics, which tread the line between mellowed cool and agitated insistence on songs like the turbulent “Cover the Mountain” and understated but exotic “Into Rain.” Archer Prewitt envelopes and elevates Prekop’s melodies with glasslike sheets of atmospheric guitar and lilting countermelodies during the evocative “Paper Window” and the dizzy spin of “Circle.” The group’s adventurous arrangements are spurred by drummer John McEntire’s deft and colorful percussion during tracks including the propulsive “Starling” and tense “Occurs.”

Listeners will encounter a wide range of touchstones in the songs performed from “Any Day,” including pop, Latin rhythms, hints of angular New Wave music a la the Police, jazz, chillwave, and the occasional art-rock flourish. The band’s energy is subdued, but persistent and restless. The combination finds The Sea and Cake crafting irresistible and charming songs that nonetheless keep pop conventions at arm’s length.

The Sea and Cake’s position as a main branch on Chicago’s musical family tree is demonstrated by the band’s lineup, as well as the bill at the Empty Bottle. Playing bass will be Doug McCombs, McEntire’s bandmate in experimental rockers Tortoise and also veteran of homegrown alternative rock frontrunners Eleventh Dream Day. Opening the show will be former Thrill Jockey labelmate and local treasure James Elkington, who will play material from his mesmerizing, folk-spun album “Wintres Woma.” In addition to playing in Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s solo band, Elkington performs with McCombs’ instrumental band Brokeback.

* The Sea and Cake, with James Elkington, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. May 23, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. $18-$20 (ages 21+);

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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