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Shopping Mall Nightmare via The Sea and Cake

Chicago's toniest, the Sea and Cake, invoke my darkest consumer fantasies, only letting me crash and burn at the end

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2007
Plus I look implausibly dopier in sunglasses, so who needs that?
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2007
Plus I look implausibly dopier in sunglasses, so who needs that?

The Sea and Cake
(Thrill Jockey)

"Up on Crutches" is what I hear in a glass elevator of an upscale mall on the new iPod I just purchased with the money earmarked for the rent. The twinges of melancholy that occur when you've done such a thing are swept aside by the blinding ur-pop sheen of the experience. Consumer electronics are better than drugs some times. "Too Strong" plays as I make my way through a department store to get to the parking garage, drunk on consumerist excess. I pause at corny brown leather jackets and silk shirts, suddenly thinking I need a new look to go with my consumer electronics.

"Crossing Line" comes on to save me just as I head to the dressing room with my new look, its fuzzy opening reminding me of some Fall song and Mark E. Smith's musings on corny brown leather jackets, and I'm left to figure out what one does with clothing one has no intention of purchasing. Do I just drop them to the floor for someone to scoop up? My wardrobe in waking life is concert shirts and cargo shorts, no dressing room at the merch table. "Middlenight"'s somewhat somber tone punctuates my resolution to leave the clothes by the register.

I decide I need a coffee to go with "Coconut", since I'm saving over $400 not getting all those clothes, a $6 latte is a bargain in comparison. I mean, a man with my cool-headedness deserves a little reward, yes? I pass the sunglasses kiosk on the way to coffee kiosk and see my distorted reflection in mirrored wraparounds I will never get in real life because I can't afford them, and in my fantasy life because, even in there, I will lose them. Plus I look implausibly dopier in sunglasses, so who needs that? Still, its one of those things I envy in others, how well appointed they look with the windows to their soul carefully shielded from peering voyeurs like myself.

Caffeinated and in doubt of my own place in this fantasy, "Exact To Me"'s urgent highlife guitar shuffles atop the nervous bossa nova, and I feel like I am spinning in the center of the gargantuan atrium, my vision becoming a blur of shoes stores and zombies carrying oversized bags. How do these people have all this money to spend? What lesson did I miss in life that leaves me pushing the light bill off to the next paycheck, and these people are buying a second pair of shoes? I'm not sure who's ahead in this game.

"Lightning" has a slight sinister air that matches my encroaching self-loathing. I want to head to the exit and gasp the fume-filled air and dart to my car, but that means going through the department store again, so I head to one of those blunted auxiliary exits, like the ones that appear to be afterthought on malls - no columns, no parking circle, not even an escalator in view. The scene out of those doors is a little better but not much. More orbital shopping centers and throngs migrating in and out before me. I feel my anxiety, my inside/outside crisis, reaching an equilibrium with "Introducing", ironically placed toward the end of the record, just like the exchanging of names in a cocktail party conversation. I never remember anyone's name, so why even ask.

I take off running during the warm Krautrock buzz of "Left On" tearing through the crowded corridors, jumping the errant empty bench, sideswiping a leaflet stand leaving behind a cloud of waterbed brochures, past the mild admonishments of security posted outside the department store, past the fucking shirts and jackets, slamming into that one glass door that is still locked (there is always one, isn't there) and run, with my soul bleeding into the parking lot. I don't mind that I have to dart down two aisles to find my car, I need to animal adrenaline rush to rid my organs of plastic residue.

I forgot the sunscreen thing, and my car (whose AC is busted) is as warm as someone's mouth, but the languid tropical torpor of "Transparent" oddly makes me feel visible again, like my corporeal form is just now fizzling back on. It takes an odyssey of sharp turns (my power steering is out too) to leave this cursed place, but I make it out into the cold embrace of the freeway, entering the stream safe as Gary Numan, headed down a concrete trajectory to the blinding, all-consumptive sun.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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