Album Reviews


A Sea of Keys

Artist:     A Sea of Keys

Album:     A Sea of Keys

Label:     We Know Better Records

Release Date:     07/29/2016


That dream factory of surrealistic, experimental indie-pop known as the Elephant 6 Collective never really closed its doors for good. As drummer for the Apples in Stereo since 2006, John Dufilho – also the driving force behind indie-rock darlings the Deathray Davies – likely has his own key to the place, which would be a good home for Cantina, too.

A super group of sorts, Cantina once called itself I Love Math before banjo player Marcus Hollar climbed aboard, and their latest effort is A Sea of Keys, a cryptic yet evocative title that Jeff Mangum probably wishes he could steal. Delightfully eclectic and engaging, with a clean, breezy air about it, this superbly crafted 15-song set flies by all too quickly, kind of like summer. And “God is the Sun” is perfect beach music, undeniably cool and catchy, while “Lucifer,” “Hypnotic” and “Suitcase Full of Plans” lightly bounce along with a jaunty, carefree sensibility that’s utterly infectious.

Even odd curiosities such as “Snowman” and the creeping “Black Cat” are inventive and interesting, rather than off-putting, while “The Wedding Under the Bridge” is a throwback to vintage ‘60s folk-pop that envisions Elliot Smith on mood elevators fronting the Beach Boys. Whereas a wheeling “Bulletproof” is pure alt.-country catnip for Jimmy Webb disciples.

Experimental, without being aloof and pretentious, Cantina – featuring the Polyphonic Spree’s Jason Garner, Philip Peeples from the Old 97s and Dufilho’s old Deathray Davies mate Andy Lester, as well as Hollar – lures skeptics with gentle but insistent hooks that turns them into daydream believers. A diverse mix of instrumentation, including everything from ukuleles to piano, fuzzed-out guitar and drums without cymbals, breeds even more fascination, making A Sea of Keys, with much of its lyrical content based on a Dufilho short story, a sweet vacation from bland normalcy.

-Peter Lindblad

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