“Lassoing in Some of CAKE’s Strongest Motifs both within and without Realms That Are Literary”

Ah, I love discovering albums that aren’t available on Spotify… hey that’s about as close to “underground” as we bloggers can get these days, enit? Read: Blitzen Trapper – Live in Portland. Apropos, I just gave Live from the Crystal Palace a whirl and it was a well oiled machine.
But getting to my point, it’s not so much a question of whether CAKE (Sacramento, CA/1991-present) is a weird band or not, but whether weirdness is their FORMATIVE trait. In other words, do they have to be WEIRD in order to be good?
Now, just let me level with you. I’m a 34 year old living amidst a bunch of younger people who SOMETIMES, and this may just be kind of a general tendency, don’t really understand things like irony and sarcasm [the worst instance probably being the reviewer on Spin who failed to notice that Isaac Brock on “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” was actually stepping into a fictitious first-person narration of a rapist [1] and not actually just earnestly stating something that he wanted to do [2]. That song is weird but its weirdness, in my opinion, the dark tension and the strong impression it thereby makes, positions it as the most stalwart track on Strangers to Ourselves, which really isn’t too bad of an album at all.
Isaac Brock’s voice is sort of funny and quirky, obviously, as well as are his techniques like yelling and saying like catastrophically depressing things about people and relationships with veritably astonishing sangfroid, but CAKE… CAKE is just in a different league altogether. Like what’s up with all those pauses John McCrea initiates in them jams? I was thinking about this earlier: I’d actually heard McCrea described as “awkward” or “nerdy” one time (maybe because he’s not mixed-race, I dunno), but to me his problem is that he isn’t awkward ENOUGH — he’s got a preternaturally commendable voice for pop/rock to da** near the point of Eddie Vedder and suave, cool looks. The pauses are a ballast so he doesn’t pi** people off so bad at shows that somebody John Wilkes Booths his a**.
So anyway since “The Distance” was their initial statement as a band and since it jibes with what I allude to in the title about literary themes in their lyrics, I’ll just provide the first theory of this article right now and claim the horse race narration to actually metaphorically represent a doomed, or delusional, attempt at romance, something that no doubt exists about everywhere to the approximate level of ridiculousness we hear wielded in the song — the girl is so out of his league, or has put him so out of his mind or developed such a distaste for him that although he thinks the race is still going on, his endeavor is as foolish as the horseback rider still “driving and striving” even though “Long ago someone left with the cup”. I apologize if this is already a pervasive listen to this cut but actually it just dawned on me, in lieu of what would have I suppose otherwise been just the lyricist’s weighing in with the intention to emphasize that imagery of dusk and solitary equestrian.
Now, elsewhere in the band’s catalogue, they have a song about watching a girl sleep, they have a song whereon McCrea takes up half the song just awkwardly blipping out the words “Watching the sun go down”, and they have an excellent guitar rock instrumental, “Arco Arena,” where the singer again feels the need to get his “Ya-Ya”’s out, just like the exclamation on “The Distance” at that one point… I mean so much crazy uniqueness goes into making these albums apparently that listening to a new one is somewhat of an emotional investment. All this leads perhaps to why, even if 2011’s Showroom of Compassion does feature an excellent opener (which it does, “Federal Funding”), the discussion of it still might not ever get above a whisper, particularly since pop/rock wasn’t exactly “setting the world on fire” in 2011 [3]. CAKE seem like lads with their fingers pretty firmly wetted to the wind of culture and lyrically, it’s clear that they thought that the vague, banal political “discourse” in “Federal Funding” (the apparent malady being that public moneys were being contributed to the already wealthy in a problematically conservative instance of allocative back-patting), like being too clever is an endeavor of diminishing returns, which Spin’s review of Strangers to Ourselves clearly proves, most unfortunately. “Federal Funding” is a broad-shouldered, methodical stomper most akin stylistically probably to “Frank Sinatra” (another opener) within their catalogue and its rocking moxie really plays as a significant victory lap, in incredible ratio to the time it takes. It so happens that the rest of Showroom of Compassion is unfocused, uninspired and flaccid, but for any track from that album to make it on to the short list of (25 or so) best CAKE songs on the venerable Dolby Disaster, well, that’s just icing on the cake, enit? Haha, just kidding. Anyway, I hope you agree, and I hope you see the case I’m implicitly making here that “Federal Funding” might actually be a better song musically than “The Distance,” to the point of relative lyrical frivolousness.
[1] What is going on on the playgrounds of our nation’s fine schools these days?
[2] Granted, it can be an uncomfortable song to listen to in a group, if it’s not the right emotional mix.
[3] Oh and then Coldplay just had to go and craft the perfect ballad “Paradise” and ruin my point here.

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