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The thought-scrambling dilemmas of social media have been over-chewed to the point that they’re barely worth discussing. But consider Discontinued Perfume, the fifth album by D.C. art-pop trio The Caribbean. It’s a record that’s disjointed yet soothing, an ADHD-friendly sonic balm that meditates on and eases the confusion of The Way We Live Now.
“Lands and Grooves” is an unrushed lead-in to Discontinued Perfume’s moving geography. Finger-picked acoustic guitars rest beneath subtle handclaps and concise synthetic noises, all anchored by Michael Kentoff’s pleasantly enunciated, Scritti Politti-like vocals. His humble, storyteller delivery is often complicated by detached, sedate lyrics about digital life moving at high velocity.
Discontinued Perfume shares some of the aural touchstones of The Caribbean’s previous records, but it feels more present, and a bit peppier. The melodic, glockenspiel-tickled “The Clock Tower” suggests the discordantly upbeat score to a woe-is-the-suburbs art film. The title track has a warped, yacht-appropriate swagger, but its topic is the mysterious and tragic suicides of writer and filmmaker Theresa Duncan and her boyfriend, the artist Jeremy Blake—who first met in D.C.’s punk scene. It’s a heavy yet relevant choice. The massive public fascination with their demises, seven days apart in 2007, amplified the perverse and undeniable mystique of an artist’s self-caused death.
That’s another big theme of Discontinued Perfume: the perils of being in the business of creating. In “Mr. Let’s Find Out,” (mp3) Kentoff—a longtime music vet—sings “it feels like we failed,” perhaps reflexively. In “Artists in Exile,” the frontman, who’s a civil litigator by day, considers how to be a family man and an artist: “The houses are real and the garden is real… meanwhile in the basement, secret tapes roll…”
It seems that in Kentoff’s telling, it’s hard to keep those personal and professional and artistic lives from bleeding together in an age of constant online self-reflection, and maybe you shouldn’t, anyway. And so Discontinued Perfume feeds on and synthesizes a never-ending news feed the way a subconscious mind processes the day’s events during a vividly strange bout of REM sleep. The Caribbean’s songs also tend to be jewel-box narratives, never prescriptions, and the record isn’t interested in imparting straightforward wisdom. What it will do is calm your overstimulated senses even as it picks them apart.