It's an old EP (or minidisc) trick, having two versions of the same song on a disc that only has five or six songs to begin with. I've bought EPs that included a favorite pop song with a giddy joy because I'd get to hear the song twice. And I've bought EPs where the double dose of a single song makes the disc a chore to listen to. But I don't think I've ever listened to the same song back to back without realizing it was the same until I looked at the cover of the CD. The Sea and Cake's EP, Glass, released just on the heels of their full-length disc, One Bedroom, begins with two versions of the same song. But for me, the distracted listener posing as a critic, the songs sound entirely different.
I've listened to Glass more than a dozen times now, sometimes at the height of distraction, with not only my two noisy children in the room, but some of their slithering pets as well. And I've listened to it alone, with earphones. And I can't tell which is the stronger force in masking the similarities between the two tracks: the frantic child with a missing pet slug in my dining room or the deft composition and production of John McEntire.
Both versions of "To the Author" could be played on a dance floor, especially one in 1980s Manchester. The first version has some electronic elements, but the tune is mainly propelled by guitars and Sam Prekop's breathy vocals. It sounds a little like New Order, with a slightly menacing, rhythmic strumming quietly skulking in the background while the keyboards prance around in the foreground. The second version, and second track, is admittedly similar. It just took me longer than it should have to notice. It's the same electropop mix of organic and electronic, but here the percussion is more prominent. The skulking strumming is still hanging around, quietly begging to be noticed.
On "Traditional Wax Coin," the band's link to Thrill Jockey label mate Tortoise can be heard clearly. McEntire, who produced and plays drums on this disc, is also in Tortoise. It's a quiet and unassuming song, picking up different blips and hums as it moves along, but as in most tracks on the disc, the guitar is the lead. There's enough of a groove to make it nice background music, pleasantly propelling such activities as cleaning up slug slime or talking about how slugs weren't meant for a life in captivity. But there are layers and twists that reward a close listen too.
After I had cleared the children and slug out of the house, I realized that there is another repeated track on the disc. "Hotel Tell," a track from One Bedroom, also appears twice but not back to back. One version is a remix by Stereolab and the other is by Carl Craig. The Craig remix, or "C's mix," as it's listed on the disc, is a more-than-eight-minutes-long, throbbing dance track. It sounds completely different from the other tracks on the disc. Craig lets the song slowly build up, adding another layer of beats with each stanza, which gives Prekop's whispery voice a sense of urgency. The song is long enough and big enough to swallow up the nagging concerns that try and interfere with the music (if you let them); in fact, it even swallows up The Sea and Cake. Once the three minutes or so of Prekop's vocals are over, the track seems to leave The Sea and Cake behind and become a DJ track, with looped sounds standing in for the band's instruments. But that's what I like about this disc. Each of the seven tracks, which are really only four songs, meander around, often stopping in a completely different place from where they started. They are just similar enough to blend together in a close listen, but they also work as a diverse soundtrack behind whatever it is you're doing.