Caribbean – Discontinued Perfume

January 01, 1970



Despite all its quietness and deliberateness,
there’s something defiant about the Caribbean’s music. Pinpointing the exact
source of that feeling isn’t easy, however. The songs demand close listening,
the rhythms are patient, the studio craft is clever, and the lyrics are
penetrable even if they’re not linear. The D.C.-area band isn’t messing
directly with the consumer.


But the Caribbean messing with something,
usually. On Discontinued Perfume, the
target seems to be the idea that a band needs a mythos. What else would explain
the weirdly heightened sense of ordinariness that floats through the 11 songs?
Singer Michael Kentoff has always had a quirky, nasal delivery, but on this
album it’s almost aggressive: He’s more than just a storyteller; he’s the
regular guy right in the middle of the headphones. Like the text in the middle
of the CD cover-art says: “Discontinued Perfume seems to be about living a
strong, practical, grown up life and being comfortable with leaving that world
and accepting the unknowable.”


Of course, even that blurb uses the verb
“seems.” That’s because the Caribbean makes art-pop, and art-pop is
rarely tidy. Discontinued Perfume,
the band’s fifth full-length, would be more instantly gratifying if there were
a speaker-blowing Flaming Lips-style explosion somewhere; instead, there’s
genius in the left-field banjo playing on “Municipal Stadium,” the
jagged guitar solo at the end of “Outskirts” and the clock-hand tempo
of “Mr. Let’s Find Out.” The chorus of “Artists in Exile”
easily could soar off into the ’70s ether, but it doesn’t; the acoustic chords
and steady drumbeat just keep going (like the song’s subjects — the people who
are compelled to make art after the kids are in bed). And just once, somebody
could mash an effects pedal during the spacey “Collapsitarians,” but
nobody does, and you’re left to imagine what the shoegazer version would sound


And it’s all for the better. These guys aren’t
bigger than life. They’re smart, they’re careful and they dwell in the same
world as the rest of us. If there’s anything unknowable or opaque in Discontinued Perfume, it’s the point
where instinct ends and thought begins. And if there were a precise answer —
or if the music landed more heavily on one side or the other — the Caribbean
would be far less interesting.


DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Let’s Find Out,”
“Collapsitarians,” “Municipal Stadium” JOE WARMINSKY

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