History’s First Know-It-All
The Caribbean is a band who has mastered the fine art of creating a lovely tune. On their third album, this group from D.C. takes their time with each of the 12 songs, letting the guitar, drums, bass and keyboards just mingle together. Add to this traditional arrangement a splash of found sound, sampling, and electronic clatter, and you have the makings of a dozen quirky, laid-back pop gems.
An obvious comparison can be made between the Caribbean and indie-pop darlings Death Cab for Cutie, one that goes beyond their shared affinity for sublime song titles. While Caribbean lead singer Michael Kentoff doesn’t have the same songwriting chops as Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, they both have mellow, somewhat nasal voices that cut through their bands’ lush arrangements. The Caribbean in particular has a gift for Beatles-esque melody, from “Officer Garvey,” their homage to Sgt. Pepper’s “Getting Better,” to the lovely instrumental harmony that ends “In-House.” Each song occupies this same musical space, with every tune infinitely hummable, if not immediately catchy.
To borrow a phrase coined by online music site Pitchfork’s Spencer Owen, the Caribbean plays “new lounge” music, with “lounge” acting as a verb rather than a noun. The songs on History’s First Know-It-All are ones that you can kick-back to, letting the music drift through your ears while you sip on a cold brew. Such is the seduction of the Caribbean, who certainly embodies its namesake’s heavenly tranquility, if not its aquamarine color.
A Band of Bees
Sunshine Hit Me
On the branches of the reggae tree, above the soil of rock ‘n’ roll and beneath blessed-out stratosphere of psychedelia, there hangs a buzzing beehive. This is a colony of bumblebees who would never think to sting you with harsh noises, instead floating lazily around your ears, playing marimbas, piano and organ. The Bees are reminiscent of the Beta Band, and share some of their shortcomings (inane lyrics, anybody?), but ultimately smoothing away my memory of the cutting wind outside.
That’s right: it’s always summer in beeland. The flowers are always in bloom and the nectar is always delish. Case in point: the drowsy horns of “Sky Holds the Sun,” the perfect song for reclining with that special someone and imagining a verdant utopia far away from bleak Chicago winter. So let that moogy “Sunshine” spill all over you; it’s the best you can do for months.
Antipop vs. Matthew Shipp
Thirsty Ear Recordings
Pianist Matthew Shipp turned many heads a year ago with the release of Nu Bop, a supposed landmark in progressive jazz (I wouldn’t know; I haven’t heard it). Its integration of 21st-century programming with Shipp’s signature free-jazz piano was hailed by starving critics as really new; something remarkable for a genre that’s been stagnating for 25 some odd years.
On his latest release, he has collaborated with Warp Records’ very own Antipop Consortium, melding his atonal piano with their synths and MCing to create something very odd indeed…and bad. The essential problem with the album is (lo and behold!) the two creative forces don’t combine well. As accomplished as Shipp is on his own, and as hot and brilliant as some of APC’s raps are, they never amalgamate to create a great hybrid: they’re always in tension. It’s like eating crème brulee and filet minon–each is delectable by itself, but combining them in a mouthful is nauseating.
They deserve kudos for attempting this engineering feat, but they ended up with a musical equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster.
Incest Live sounds like a perverse porno site, but happily it isn’t. In fact, it isn’t even “live” in any traditional sense. Although Sutekh recorded the whole album in real-time, no audience was present, and the result is actually a mélange of audio output from the last three years. As with all of the music he creates in real-time, the songs were actually reconstructed from existing tracks. Although I haven’t heard any of Mr. Sutekh’s previous releases, I like the principle behind that ethos: always recreating the same artwork in different forms. Like Nabokov, nyet?
As a stand-alone, Incest Live is an addictively rhythmic glitch album, with a beat that’s stilted enough to seem like “Intelligent Dance Music” but catchy enough to be actually, well, danceable. Okay, so if you played this at a party people wouldn’t spontaneously undress (as in a Nellyville underwear party), but you could be sure to get a few black turtle-necked wallflowers twitching. Sutekh organized the album in the form of the much-maligned DJ Mix (a la Thievery Corporation-gasp, shudder [that was then, this is now]), which doesn’t detract from Incest Live’s credibility (if that’s an issue). His sonic palette is interesting and varied enough to stop all comparisons to they of the 808 and 303 right… now!
These are a few of my favorite (sounding) things: defibrillators, dentist drills, orthodontist lasers (the ones that melt the glue that holds your braces), EKG machines, radio static, alarm clocks, Windows presets, and the almost inaudible high-frequency TV sound. All have guest cameos (or so it sounds) on Incest Live. If that–the whole Brave Little Toaster they-only-come-out-at-night subplot–doesn’t make you want to buy the album, then I guess you’re not like me. But seriously, folks, if (like me) you’re perpetually thirsting for dissonant glitch-bop, then you’re sure to find Incest Live a sinister good time.