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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Guppyboy -> The Essex Green - Chapter II

Part two in a series. The first installment can be found here.

The Essex Green
The move to Brooklyn in 1997 was a new beginning for the remaining members of the band. For the first time in four years Mike Barrett, Chris Ziter, and Jeff Baron were living under the same roof. In the interim Jeff had spent time working in other outfits, most notably Ladybug Transistor, with Sasha Bell.

With only 4/5 of Guppyboy, a new name, The Essex Green, was chosen (in reference to Mike and Chris' home town of Essex Junction, VT). A new drummer was added in Tim Barnes, whose previous credits include keeper of the beat for the Silver Jews.

The sound changed a bit with the new surroundings, name, and configuration. With a dash more psychedelia and straightforward pop, The Essex Green played the New York circuit before touring the East Coast with Aden and Saturnine in 1998. Their first release was a split single with The Sixth Great Lake the following spring. Everything is Green, their first LP, was put out by Elephant 6/Kindercore records in late 1999. The Elephant 6 seal of approval said a lot about a band - sort of like a film coming out of Disney Studios. Elephant 6 was the neo-psychedelia revivalist label in the 90s, spawning such groups as The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Of Montreal. Needless to say, releasing an album as part of "The Collective" brought expectations; The Essex Green exceeded them.

The album received rave reviews for its uncanny accuracy at capturing the psychedelic heyday of the late 60s. Eight years of exploration had brought the band together with tight arrangements that went far beyond the typical superficial similarities commonly found in neo-psychedelia indie pop. Pitchfork gave it a very respectable 7.9; Popmatters a 9.2.

Four years and a lot of touring went by before a full follow-up (The Essex Green EP was released in 2000, on Elephant 6/Parasol Records) . The Long Goodbye was brought to the masses in 2003 on Merge records. In the interim Mike left the band and moved to Nashville and the Elephant 6 Record Company went under. Despite the losses, the influence of The Collective and the three core members (Chris, Jeff and Sasha) endured. The Long Goodbye brought Sasha's voice into clearer view amongst a backdrop of melodic structures and new string arrangements. The sound on this album isn't quite as crisp as the first LP, as it tends to be a bit moodier and slower with a peppering of country styled numbers, such as the instrumental Old Dominion.

Some have called the second disc a transition album. After taking a listen to Cannibal Sea, which is scheduled for release on March 21, I now know what they mean. Cannibal Sea is The Essex Green's strongest effort to date. The album evenly mixes the country-rock that was hinted at in the previous release with classic harmonized pop structures. The sound still nods to The Byrds, but looks forward in a manner that had escaped their previous efforts. Part of the cohesiveness is due in part to the "concept album" styled theme: travel and feeling lost in the big city. I can't imagine a subject matter that's closer to home for these kids that started playing in the basements of Burlington. Perhaps its the personal nature behind the lyrics, the way the songs flow together, or the ├╝ber catchy choruses, I'm not sure of the reasoning, but The Essex Green are most definitely playing beyond their influences. And it's really good.

Pre-order Cannibal Sea from Merge Records here. The first 100 orders receive a free Cannibal Sea luggage tag and poster.

The Essex Green at MySpace.

Next up...Chapter III - The Sixth Great Lake.

The Long Goodbye - 2003
The Essex Green - The Late Great Cassiopia (stream)
The Essex Green - Our Lady in Havana (stream)
The Essex Green - Old Dominion (stream)

Cannibal Sea - 2006
The Essex Green - This Isn't Farm Life.mp3 Link Removed
The Essex Green - Don't Know Why (You Stay).mp3 Link Removed


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