Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

CD review: Cake, 'Showroom of Compassion'

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(Upbeat) 2 and a half stars

cakeshowroom.jpgSome musicians when freed of a record label and its rigid marketing schedule just turn the spigot, releasing everything that flows out of them and letting the fans sort it out. Others take their sweet time. They relish the absence of minty breath on the back of their necks and slowly labor to craft the music exactly the way they want it. Cake is the latter, and they somewhat accidentally let nearly seven years pass between their last album, 2004's "Pressure Chief" on Columbia, and this new one, which sprung from their solar-powered California studio on their own indie label. Listen to the albums back to back and you'd never guess much time had passed.

Deadpan vocals, '30s guitars, '50s trumpets -- the various ingredients that comprise Cake's laid-back sound haven't changed much (they maintain a Steely Dan-like consistency), nor have they aged or grown very stale. If anything the extra time, like yesterday's stew after a night in the fridge, has deepened the blend of flavors. Singer John McCrea, trumpeter Vince DiFiore and guitarist Xan McCurdy possess performance styles as individual as their names. More than ever, though, on "Showroom," songs are arranged and mixed to let each player speak without having to shout over the din, allowing their contributions be heard and make an impact.

The brew really bubbles on "Mustache Man (Wasted)," which McCrea actually sings instead of his usual Lou Reeding. A relatively new ingredient also comes out more on this album: keyboards. The vox humana underneath the usual Cake groove (and requisite vibra-slap) of "Long Time" adds an eerie enhancement, and the sci-fi sounds and studio echo on "Federal Funding" are positively psychedelic. Cake's multi-genre dabbling and inherent cynicism hasn't quite reached Camper Van Beethoven levels, but it's getting pretty close.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 12, 2011 1:25 PM.

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