Sam Prekop


Sam Prekop of Shrimp Boat and the Sea and the Cake delivers an album of deftly composed modular synth tracks that sounds just lovely, finds Johny Lamb

Trawling through the sixty-two page press pack is evidence enough of Sam Prekop’s previous form, even if one isn’t aware of The Sea and Cake and Shrimp Boat (his bands), nor of his Jim O’Rourke and Tortoise connections. Here we find his fifth solo offering Comma. A modular synth built box of beats, noise and pulses organised into ten neat and composed pieces that actually go a little way towards addressing some of the problems of modular synths.

I realise that I am in grave danger of making myself unpopular here but hear me out. I am a Eurorack, and analogue synth enthusiast, and can waste hour after hour letting patches run for no reason other than the joy of doing so. Modular synth’s great beauty is how alive it is, how organic, how haptic and unpredictable. But it is sometimes also its curse. You see, music made on modular synths all too often sounds like just that, and only that. The wonder of using these machines is not always replicated in the listening, and we can be left with marathons of sub-Subotnik meanderings that beyond the interesting behaviour of the system itself offers little of creative merit. It takes a long time to hone the craft of synthesis and find forms and structures that feel compositional, sequencing that really profits from repetition, modulation that enhances rather than obscures.

Prekop seems well beyond these hurdles though. This is an album that feels like it has real direction. He has bent these machines to his will. And it really works.

The title track is like a sort of high-tech gamelan with awkward portamento weaving in and out of the driving beat. He hasn’t done away with recognisable sounds and synth tropes, but he’s used them very tastefully. Envelopes are carefully crafted and articulated through sparing delay and noise saturated drones. Listen to ‘September Remember’ for a great example of this. Very little of this music tallies with what we recognise as EDM, though it’s frequently danceable. On Opening track ‘Park Line’ we get a sort of four to the floor, but the album is playing a longer game than the quick gratification we get from that side of electronic music, even though it uses much of the same language so to speak.

This is not a dark record, rather its contents are sort of candied. Even distorted sounds are pretty. It’s not twee, but it is lovely and generous. It’s all warm analogue bass and nice robust triangle waves, major arpeggios and sweet intervals. ‘Approaching’ is perhaps the prettiest track of all. A fairly gorgeous tapestry of perfectly formed timbres and harmonies ensnaring the listener in a blanket of lush. It seems to contain such a great balance of the percussive and the harmonic that all things seem at once, both. It’s just ace.

It’s not that everything is happy go lucky on this album, but even the moments of dissonance are rendered in what feels like an objectively pleasing way. Maybe I could stand a little more violence, but that’s a personal thing. However sweet I might find it subjectively, there’s no denying the craft and imagination here. This is a lovely record. The motion of ‘Circle Line’, the charm of ‘Summer Places’. Comma is an exercise in taste, expertise and skill as much as anything else, and it’s evidence (if it were ever in doubt) that contemporary modular synths can be used to highly emotive and beautiful effect.

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