On the Mark 

Archer Prewitt

Chicagoan Archer Prewitt is a regular modern-day renaissance man. A graphic illustrator responsible for Sof' Boy comics, Prewitt is best known for getting indie-pop in his loungey jazz, and for getting loungey jazz in his indie-pop, with former band The Coctails, and current band The Sea and Cake, respectively. In recent years, however, Prewitt has pretty much surpassed everything else in his oeuvre with his three solo LPs (a limited edition mini-album also surfaced, in 2000).

His 1997 solo debut, In the Sun (Carrot Top), was a natural extension of his work in The Sea and Cake, sparkling melodies relatively unadorned by superfluous instrumentation, but with White Sky (1999, Carrot Top), Prewitt came into his own. A song cycle exploring the seasonal tides, and the passage of time they mark, the album is no less than an orchestral pop masterpiece, comparable to, but far more overlooked than, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin from the same year. It was an album that marked him as a master of minor-chord melancholy, an American Al Stewart ("Year of the Cat," "Time Passages"), whom his voice often recalls.

If we're to take his latest release at face value, it's safe to say Prewitt has recently fallen in love. A far more upbeat affair, Three (Thrill Jockey), retains the dense layers of White Sky without the showiness. You could hear the work put into Sky, each string arrangement, clavinette, and glockenspiel; Three sounds far more effortless, though no less complicated in its arrangements. (Fourteen musicians play on the album and no one goes to waste.) This time around, there's a bit of the Kinks to go along with the Steely Dan, but more Roy Wood than there is Nick Drake, both of whom he's been compared to before. The album is decidedly rooted in the lush pop arrangements of the 1970s, but veers through sonic detours that mark it as of its time.

Eerily spacey, "The Race" would have sounded right at home on Mercury Rev's masterpiece, Deserter's Songs; the harmonica in "Over the Line" plants roots just deep enough to keep it from floating away into the ether; clocking in at under two minutes, "Two Can Play" recalls a less grandiose Chicago (the band, not the town). And while lines like "The hands go 'round and 'round/The sun goes up and down/You can't measure your life/By keeping what you found," from "Gifts of Love," might not look so great on paper, when married to its joyful melody and the off-time, swelling arrangement that backs it, it's pure pop bliss.

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