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Plastic Explosives

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Album Review

It might seem reasonable to assume that an artist called the Caribbean would perform lilting island music, but this Washington, D.C.-based quintet, despite their name, plays experimental art-rock. The members of the Caribbean know how to play their instruments, but they do so with only nominal attention to performance, resulting in music that isn't so much lo-fi as it is semi-competent. On track after track, the drummer sounds like he's been playing for only a couple of weeks or so, managing an approximation of a pattern, though without any consistency of timing. (Three band members, Matthew Byars, Tony Dennison, and Dave Jones, earn credits for drumming on the album.) Similarly, the guitars and keyboards play simple chords with just enough efficiency to keep the tunes going. Over the music, Michael Kentoff sings abstract lyrics in an ingenuous, close-miked voice. The language is full of casual conversation and contemporary references, especially having to do with computers (e-mail is mentioned twice): "Had I applied myself, I'd probably be an architect" ("I Thee Wed"); "Go to the basement, call upstairs/I'm online" ("Interfaith Roommates"); "In the name of full disclosure/I'm about safety for safety's sake" ("Plastic Explosives"); "Pressurized at 50 atmospheres, the vapor serum is always an option" ("First & Apple"). The 12 songs are interspersed with six interludes that bring in found sounds including a conversation between a mother and child about pajamas. The result is a minimalist, conceptual recording in which music serves as a medium for conveying a somewhat distracted point of view rather than to entertain in any conventional manner. As with Adam Heathcott and Sara Padgett's Hipgnosis-influenced cover design (colored boxes set out in various outside locations), the point seems to be to impose an artistic perspective on the mundane.


Formed: 1999 in Washington, D.C.

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Washington, D.C.'s the Caribbean formed out of the ashes of two of the city's most prominent indie rock bands, the Townies and Smart Went Crazy. Their self-released debut EP arrived at the end of 1999, and the group signed to Winnipeg's Endearing Records for its first full-length album, Verse by Verse, which was released in spring 2001. Originally a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Michael Kentoff, bassist Matthew Byars, and drummer/brass player Tony Dennison, the Caribbean added drummer Don...
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Plastic Explosives, The Caribbean
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