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I Hear Sparks: Sam Prekop – Old Punch Card

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Sam Prekop, better known to some as the frontman for Chicago’s The Sea and the Cake, is up to some good old-fashioned experimentin’ with Old Punch Card. The record is essentially a long strand of modular synthesizer work, pieced together with effects and noise and lots and lots of beautiful space.

Here is a record of such expansiveness and such depth that the shock of realizing that Prekop worked this all out on analog synthesizers barely wears off by the time the sound trickles away.

Prekop’s structures are, to say the least, utterly confounding in that he doesn’t appear at all concerned with being boring and linear. Those seeking good solid pop songs would be best served checking out something else, of course. For the rest of us, the brave or stupid ones, Old Punch Card represents a challenge of understanding and ultimate gratification.

Despite tossing out the structures, Prekop is utterly concerned with the flow and direction his work takes. Not to be taken for a bumbling fool tinkering with various noises until he finds the right fit, there’s a sense of purpose unfolding in each of the record’s lovely, surprising, stunning soundscapes. There’s a beginning and an end, believe it or not, which is more than I can say for much of what passes for art these days.

Old Punch Card is an album about manipulation. Prekop works through a host of feelings and sounds, alternating between mellow coaxing and vigorous force to gather speed.

The gentle six-minute gauze of “A Places” is a stunningly lush arrangement that bursts and bubbles with sudden flashes of clatter. Prekop’s willingness to disturb, even momentarily, the calm surface of the water keeps the music interesting. The overall effect, in the path of destruction, is oddly calming.

“Array Wicket” is like walking through a thick lawn, with the expression of noise and vibrant color elusively clinging like static to the blades of grass.

Then there’s the wrong-number punching that begins “Lazy House,” a warped but soothing sense of misdirection that Prekop comfortably warps into fluttering glades of lush and exciting sound.

Old Punch Card is a jarringly splendid album, one of the most interesting and strange records I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year. It is an elusive, slippery bit of work, to be certain, and it won’t move everyone who hears it to dump what they think they know about music in favor of a Prekop-led education. But it is thrilling in its own way, serving as a strong example of what can be done when the rulebook is rightly thrown away.

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