The Caribbean Populations

[Hometapes; 2007]

Others: Radar Brothers, Grandaddy, Flaming Lips

Gentle, literate rock. It's not something many indie bands aspire to, and for good reason: it's nearly impossible to pull off well. Unable to hide behind the aggressive chug of a monster riff or percussive beat of the traps, making things soft tends to expose all the inadequacies and foibles of a band. Yet these dangerous waters are where The Caribbean choose to swim, and their fourth studio album, Populations, shows no signs of retreat.

Singer/guitarist Michael Kentoff is the heart of the band, with his whispered vocals a defining element. There's a sweetness to his delivery that is both an asset and a detriment. Upon first listen, his coyness draws me to listen to the lyrics, which are an intelligent mix of charming, funny, and melancholy with just the obligatory smattering of obtuseness to keep us guessing. I can't help but smile at lines like "Scientists baked the tapes/ Historians stroked goatees in delight:/ 'What is this foreign range of sound?'" Yet, after a few listens, the whisper, now less mysterious and provocative, becomes treacly and overly precious. Additionally, there's no catchiness to the melodies, and the songs become more like intellectual exercises than anything else. Such is the negative side of the fine line the soft rocker treads.

The supporting musicianship is subdued as well -- nothing extraneous, nothing overplayed, but nothing too exciting either. Populations is the picture of indie competence, but there's a complete lack of oomph. It's not that everyone needs to be The Boredoms, but if the desired mood is mellow, there need to be some compelling elements to focus on: a unique voice, intricate or unexpected arrangements, memorable melodies -- something to make it stand out. Without that, it just becomes background that's quickly forgotten.

Most Read