Often, the word “postmodern” gets used as a high-grade substitution for the more mundane (and accurate) “new and (supposedly) different.” You’ll hear phrases like “postmodern folk” to describe what would more aptly be called simply “contemporary folk” (folk music that doesn’t pretend it’s the 19th century), except that “contemporary folk” just means “folk music pretending it’s the 19th century but sung by not-dead people wearing cable knit sweaters and fetishizing acoustic instruments.”
The Caribbean (which is a band – as their helpfully-URL’d website www.thecaribbeanisaband.com notes) actually does do something that might aptly be referred to as “postmodern folk.” Characters in Caribbean songs describe their lives, their confusions, frustrations, minor triumphs and obsessions, often in nonlinear fashion, jargon-ridden with the lingo of office parks, low-level government workers, drugstore delivery drivers, and so on. The music seems simple, often built around voice and acoustic guitar (even if the chords are slightly jazz-influenced) – but structurally and melodically, the songs are nearly as fragmented as their lyrics can be. Subtle electronics both layer the arrangement and permeate the production (i.e., occasional loops, interruptions, and glitches). “The Go From Tactical”, the first song issued from the band’s upcoming September release Populations, is a fine example even down to the title, both of whose nouns are jargonistically repurposed from a verb and adjective respectively (yes, I’m a word geek: what of it?). There’s a sense of loss, of being left behind somehow, or of the risk thereof – or maybe I’m just diffusing the clearest lines in the song (“you’re going to have to stop crying at the choruses of your favorite Go-Betweens songs cuz they’re gone”) over the rest of the song. But that’s the way things work, isn’t it.
So it seems apt that the Caribbean is one of the bands represented on one of the initial releases of the West Main Development label (a project of band member Matthew Byars) – a document of songs played over the telephone and broadcast on a Boston radio station, called (inevitably) Phoning It In. Here’s a version of their song “William of Orange,” title track from their 2004 EP on Hometapes. There’s something both intimate and distancing about a phone call, and that mixed affect strikes me as another frequent characteristic of Caribbean songs.