Friday, July 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Michael Kentoff

Michael Kentoff's Imitation Air appears on The Caribbean's new Moon Sickness album discussed below.

The Caribbean - Moon Sickness (Hometapes)

“I’ve been working with The Caribbean for a decade now. I’m a passionate fan and I take my job as technical custodian of their art very seriously. They’ve always been an unusually thoughtful and creative band with a forward-looking aesthetic I have worked to protect and amplify. As time has gone on, their vision has become more refined and their execution more confident and authoritative.

This is as it should be.

Bands should get stronger and more interesting as they progress. Ideally, public awareness, critical acclaim and popularity increase in accord. Along these exact lines, a great thing happened in 2011. The band created and released ‘Discontinued Perfume,’ its strongest, darkest, most realized work to date. Happily, it was met with nearly unanimous acclaim. Here in DC, awareness of and esteem for the band rose palpably in the press. With ‘Discontinued Perfume,’ people started bandying about hyperbole like ‘brilliant’ and ‘masterpiece.’ The reception was surprising and gratifying for a fairly esoteric band that had resigned itself to being consigned to the margins. It was like a key turned in a cultural lock somewhere. People really began to ‘get it.’ It was nice.

But how do you follow up this kind of thing? Remarkably, when it came time to make a new album, the band did not become intimidated or self-conscious. There was no discussion about this new circumstance. They simply set about the business of creating new music in the way they always had. Michael Kentoff went down to his basement studio, used his formidable imagination, and came up with the scaffolding for nine new songs, which the band began to vivify and adorn. Business as usual.

Check out the Moon Sickness album right here.
The result is ‘Moon Sickness,’ a new set of songs with many of the recognizable characteristics of previous Caribbean albums — Kentoff’s literary and darkly dreamlike lyrics, the band’s advanced and eccentric compositional sensibility, and the curious, electronically treated surreal found-sounds draped around the songs. However, what feels new here is a bright, almost gregarious immediacy…embodied most obviously by the opener ‘Chemistry Sisters.’ This song contrasts pretty sharply with the opener of the previous album, the sinister, conspiratorial ‘Lands And Grooves.’ Where ‘Lands And Grooves’ opened with an introductory sound, an austerely minimal beat, and a stanza of poetic evocation, ‘Chemistry Sisters’ leaps out of the speakers with no overture whatsoever. The song is in your lap within a matter of seconds, overspilling with saturated, kaleidoscopic hues, a kinetic, byzantine chord progression, and a lyric that almost feels like a prosaic narrative description. Whole thing seems downright extroverted. It’s certainly a contrast from the terrain of ‘Discontinued Perfume.’

Before involving me in the album, the band described the music to me as concise, unforced pop songs. But I’ve been collaborating with the band long enough to be familiar with their tendency to characterize their own music as much more conventional and accessible than it is. It’s one of the qualities that makes them so beguilingly arcane: they don’t regard themselves as arcane at all. Still, I was indeed struck by the tone and presence of the songs when I heard them. ‘Imitation Air’ has dark lyrics, but it is pretty damned hooky from the first few seconds. With its appealing loping swing, I think it’s as close as the band has gotten to the word ‘confectionary.’ And ‘Jobsworth’ eschews the futuristic sonics that the band has often favored for a more plainly appointed rock arrangement. Seems to almost take on shades of ‘Document’-era R.E.M. Or at least that’s the way I hear it.

So at the risk of playing armchair analyst, I speculate that the Caribbean’s subconscious response to the new warmth and encouragement that enfolded them in the ‘Perfume’ period was to radiate it back out to the world. And that is a key energy you hear in this album. That being said, let’s be clear: Caribbean acolytes will not be shocked or dismayed. They are still arcane, introspective weirdo geniuses with a taste for the surreal and a basically melancholic disposition. I mean, come on, they titled it ‘Moon Sickness.’ It’s not a party record. You’d be wise not to expect straightforward, jubilant singalong choruses or ordinary chord progressions. But within the band’s canon — a body of work I love profoundly — this is certainly the most congenial entry yet.

Along with its own intrinsic virtues, I think it makes for a fantastic chaser for the last album.”

Chad Clark, producer/engineer

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