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The Caribbean, History's First Know-It-All

reviewed by Dave heaton

There's plenty of great music made today by musicians that are generally following a genre path laid down by their predecessors: making really solid power-pop, for example, or jazz that's true to the famous be-bop masters. But it's always refreshing to see bands that are creating their own hybrid genre, one built from the pieces of music they love but not overly endebted to any one style of music. That's what the Carribean's music is like. On their second album, History's First Know-It-All, their songs use elements that are familiar but do so in a way that seems completely new.

The building blocks of their sound come from a variety of places in the history of pop/rock music. There's consistent hints toward the superbly crafted melodies of Brill Building pop classics and the classic jazz standards of Cole Porter, et. al, Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, the late-night mood of bossa nova and traditional jazz, and guitar riffs and drum breaks fresh off of Sgt. Pepper's or The White Album. Yet all of these musical elements-and no doubt, more-are broken down and re-assembled in a unique way, as the basis for the Caribbean's mysterious music. Singer Michael Kentoff has a uniquely quiet voice and sings in a style that at times fits the aforementioned influences and at times is more like a lower-key Steven Malkmus rap, filled with a fair amount of friendly sarcasm.

The Caribbean's songs are also sonically poly-dimensional. Their recordings are about depth more than just surfaces; listen closely and you'll hear voices and sounds in the background that you didn't know were there. That seems even more true with this release than their others (a self-titled EP and 2001's Verse By Verse album). History's First Know-It-All is an album you can fall back into and get lost in, for 37 minutes anyway. From the opening "Oahu Sugar Strike," a gorgeous ballad that's interrupted part-way through by waves of spaced-out guitar, through to the closing "Check Kiting," an oblique warning to someone guilty of a hard-to-define crime, the album is pleasantly mysterious, filled with surprises and puzzles.

If the stylistic allusions make the songs seem like they should be love ballads, the lyrics will befuddle you. They often seem like half-told stories or glimpses of dreams, with people referenced who we haven't met before, situations refered to that we don't entirely understand, and feelings expressed without much context information (take, for example, the repeated line, "It's unlikely to setttle the difference," in the song of the same name). Yet part of the joy of the Carribean's music is the way that you can listen to their songs as both intriguing mysteries to figure out and accesible, pleasurable pop songs, with great melodies, moods and textures. It's like Mulholland Drive within a Burt Bacharach song, fascinating in ways both everyday and esoteric.

(Note: The album was released by Endearing Records. The band's web site is

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