Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Essex Green/Cannibal Sea/7.2

They're still cheery and hook-laden, although-- apropos of the times-- a little less innocent, a little less free.

Snakes On A Plane

I know it's an internet meme that's over two months old, but it had to make its way here sometime. If you don't know, "Snakes On A Plan" is the title of an upcoming movie starring Samuel Jackson. The brilliance of the title is that you know exactly what the movie's about. From the title, you also know if you're going to a) order tickets now for the summer opening, b) rent it with friends, lots of popcorn and several 40's of beer, or c) avoid it completely because life is way too short. It's a creation that unabashedly embraces its genre with little irony or second thoughts. You're either going to like "Snakes On A Plane" because of that or you won't.

Essex Green's Cannibal Sea embraces its genre of sunny, sincere pop music. For fans of indie pop, this is the record you've been waiting for this year. If you're looking for edginess, look elsewhere. If you're looking for even winking irony, you'll find none. All you'll find is various tempos of roots-oriented pop polished to a sheen by Sasha Bell's and Jeff Baron's harmonizing. The Essex Green have made a record of sincere heartfelt rock that, if you can accept it for what it is, will provide you with one of the better listens so far this year.

Personally, I like the natural sheen of Cannibal Sea. Thinking of similarities, I can hear early 10,000 Maniacs, Bettie Serveert, Opal, and even a little Let's Active. Just as there is a variety of influences, Cannibal Sea has a huge variety of sounds – from the danceable "This Isn't Farm Life" and "Cardinal Points" to the folksy "Rabbit". Some of this comes from having two strong writers. Further, both songwriters seem to enjoy experimenting with different styles. Where many records with strong past influences can become monotonous, the diversity of influences on Cannibal Sea provides the record with variety between tracks to stay interesting. Another problem of retro-influenced pop is putting style over substance. Essex Green avoids that pitfall by putting the songs first and letting the arrangements follow. The end result is a record that feels like listening to a good radio station while driving down a country road.

Part of my enjoyment of this record may be my fondness of boy/girl harmonies. Several points in the record just grab me – Bell's voice coming behind Baron's on the choruses of "Don't Know Why" and "Rabbit", Baron harmonizing to Bell on "Sin City" and both singers' interplay on "Penny & Jack". The rest of the instruments fill in the spaces nicely, but the real stars are the vocalists.

The Pitchfork review…well, it's adequate. Like several low 7's review, it's just a little short in the word count (387 words) and a skosh heavy on its intro. Also, I wouldn't compare Essex Green to label mates the Clientele but more to Camera Obscura. Melancholy Clientele fans may find the Essex Green a little too cheery. On the other hand, both Essex Green and Camera Obscura share a strong influence from 60's pop and both use vocal harmonies to powerful effect. Compared to other indie pop records out there, Cannibal Sea rates up there with the Case's and Destroyer's latest. It's also a more hummable record then the last two; you'll find yourself tapping your toes more often to Cannibal Sea.