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Standout Track: No. 9, “Plastic Explosives,” a lonely, paranoid, slow burn of a song set in Paris. Lead singer/songwriter Michael Kentoff fingerpicks a waltz on a nylon-string guitar; other members of this D.C.-based indie-rock quintet come in with backup vocals, accordion, and even a marimba.
Musical Motivation: Kentoff read an article about French security personnel sending plastic explosives through random baggage checks to see if the they would be detected by airport screeners. “Lo and behold, some of it got through,” he says.
The song’s last line is a nod to officials’ flip response to the mishap: “With no fuse, plastic explosives are as safe as chocolate cake.” Other lyrics are (vaguely) political: “In my heart plastic explosives always a last resort/Passenger manifest: profile eavesdrop candidate.” Kentoff finds something “inherently interesting about intelligence,” he says. “It’s about the terrorism that the good guys do—spying on us to make us freer.”
“When you’re listening to an album and you come upon the title track, your brain says, ‘Maybe I should pull my chair up,’” Kentoff says. The band chose the rather ambiguous song to name the album because of its “gravitas and emotional resonance.” The choice makes a good companion to the disc’s minimalist cover art, which has gravitas in spades, but arguable emotional resonance.
Happy Ending: The closing marimba solo was thrown in last minute. One of the band members had the keyboardlike wooden instrument stored in his parents’ basement in Ohio. “He brought it over as a curiosity,” Kentoff says. “He played that solo in one take, or pretty close, and it worked, and we were giggling like school children.” —Rachel Beckman