White Sky

Band: Archer Prewitt
Album: White Sky
Best song: “Motorcycles” and “Walking on the Farm” are brilliant. “Shake” is great.
Worst song: “Raise on High” is good, but not as great as the rest of the album.

When I was a freshman in college, I did this weird project — for no one but myself, though I think I had designs of posting it on the Web — wherein I mapped every single post-rock musician’s relationship to one another. It started because I’d noticed that Jim O’Rourke was starting to work with Sonic Youth and that The Sea and Cake — one of my favorite bands at the time — was, indeed, a side project and not the key band. I’d also recently discovered Slint, a band that opened up a whole new world to me.

(For what it’s worth, it looked like a systems map-type thing only with people’s names in the boxes and bands written on the connection lines.)

I spent days on this thing and it never seemed to end. It eventually encompassed producers and branched outside the (mostly meaningless) genre. Steve Albini ended up being a chart all his own, as does David Pajo. The project was eventually abandoned after it took up four sheets of paper and my writing was becoming increasingly small in font size.

The project served to reinforce two things to me:

  1. The idea of a “post-rock” as I knew it is meaningless. To classify The Sea and Cake and Tortoise in the same genre is idiotic, considering the former mostly resembles a free jazz band the the latter mostly resembles a bossa nova group. Sound-wise, there is nothing in common. Genre is what it is — helpful, but not canon — and “post-rock” should have nothing to do with it.
  2. What is know as the mid-1990s Chicago scene is more incestuous than a fundamentalist Mormon compound. Just looking at the Tortoise/TSAC thing, it’s ridiculous. Sam Prekop’s solo record featured members of Tortoise, Archer Prewitt’s solo record had some of his former bandmates from the Coctails, who in turn used to work with Poi Dog Pondering, while John McEntire produced a Stereolab record and Doug McCombs’ solo record featured members of other bands and so on and so on. Everyone works with everyone. That’s Chicago for you, I guess.

Despite the time commitment and utter futility , I am incredibly glad I did this map. Like my bizarre scouring of the Touch & Go distribution catalog as a high schooler, the post-rock map opened up worlds of music to me that I might not have heard otherwise. Growing my base of music fandom was very important to me in 1999-2000 and I’m incredibly glad I did it, even if don’t listen to that Shrimp Boat box set as I should.

Archer Prewitt’s almost-fame is derived from his participation in two of the more unique bands of recent indie rock memory. The Coctails used just about every instrument under the sun — sax, keyboards, glockenspiels and the usual rock stuff — to create upbeat, often silly music. Standing somewhere between Esquivel and Yo La Tengo, the band created a solid niche for itself in its original native Kansas City and eventually the band’s adopted home of Chicago. Like Prewitt’s look — he appears to look like someone in Mad Men or an extra in a 1940s detective film — Prewitt’s work in the band as sometime vocalist (“If You Could”) and multi-instrumentalist is epic and wonderful.

(After looking tha band up our good friend Wikipedia, it turns out the jazz-rock sound they did was called “loungecore.” The band prefered to be called “garage jazz.” See what I mean about genre labels?)

The Sea and Cake, as mentioned before, is a favorite band of mine despite the band’s, uh, distinct sound. Basically, TSAC does not branch out much and the AC/DC argument (“AC/DC has been playing the same riff for 30 years over and over.”) does apply. Nevertheless, Prewitt’s guitar sound in TSAC is a unique one in that it takes as much from indie rock of the time as it does from bossa nova kings Luiz Bonfá and João Gilberto.

And with all that, Prewitt has released three solo albums, a solo EP and a solo live album (albeit the live one was released through eMusic). Unlike TSAC bandmate Sam Prekop, Prewitt’s solo work sounds nothing like any of his other work. While Prekop’s record sounds like a stripped down TSAC record, Prewitt’s solo work spans hard rock to singer/songwriter stuff to chamber pop in the manner of Belle & Sebastian or the Decemberists.

That’s the space White Sky occupies. Like a great Fleetwood Mac record, White Sky shifts between the instrumental bombast of the title track to the sweetness of the acoustic “Last Summer Days.” The riffing in “Motorcycles” is immediately preceded by eight epic minutes of “Walking on the Farm,” a song as excellent as it is long.

Indeed, Prewitt’s voice reflects his image in that his voice is not soft and sweet (a la Prekop), but not forceful and crooning (like Mark Lanegan). He hits every note, but does it with a seeming sincerity lost in a lot of independent music and certainly in his earlier work with the Coctails. Lyrically, “Tuning into one more song/who’s on the radio?” is not Dylan, but Prewitt’s easy description of everyday in “Motorcycles” is near-perfect.

Similarly, “Shake” is a tender love song revolving around a jangly guitar. “Final Season,” full of strings, is a love song epic. Preaching his love, Prewitt intones “we’ll never know, when we’ll find a reason” as the orchestra envelopes him. And closing the album, “I’ll be Waiting” tells the lover’s story in simple terms amid another beautiful acoustic line.

Archer Prewitt’s role in music is varied. Like many that have come out of the 1990s Chicago scene, he is an always-working multi-instrumentalist. His solo albums, though, are always a treat. White Sky, his second, is a revelation. It’s lush and gorgeous, yet intimate. It can be subdued and bombastic. Prewitt’s range is impeccable and White Sky is a masterpiece.

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  • By Eureka | Albums That I Own on December 4, 2012 at 7:16 am

    […] my knowledge of music stemmed from those bands. It was around this time that Archer Prewitt’s White Sky was released, reviewed at our station by one of the older DJs I idolized. In his review, he […]

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