The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-06-29
The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic
The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic

Just an idea: this is a well-crafted progressive pop record that manages to blend rock, psych, folk, a few horns, and a little country into its grooves.

Just another idea: You know that well-worn maxim about “being careful for what you wish?” Well, trust me, wish away…

Case in point:  I was just standing in the checkout line at the local grocery store. I was buying peach yogurt. There’s always music piping in from somewhere, and while shopping, I was forced to endure Phil Collins’ inane (but highly successful) cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love.” And then, while paying for the yogurt, I suddenly heard another Phil song, the serious one that rhymes “think twice” with “paradise.”  At that moment, the checkout woman simply asked, “Did you find everything you want?”

Of course, I said, “I could sure use better pop music.”

I don’t think she understood or even cared about my taste in tunes.

Perhaps, Brian Eno should create an album entitled Music for Grocery Stores.

That said, I made my wish, and now (shall I say presto?) this album is spinning. It’s a joy to hear. Apparently, The Essex Green have taken more than a few years off from music making. I loved their previous records like The Long Goodbye, and Cannibal Sea, but (and it may be just my imagination because absence does make the heart grow fonder) this new Hardly Electronic album simply jumps with great pop vitality. This is music with the honest depth that was so prevalent in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

The first tune, "Sloane Ranger,” has urgent chords, an organ that recalls the fun of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” and Chris Ziter’s melodic vocal.

Sasha Bell sings the second song, “The 710.” The chorus, “come on, come on” is joyous, catchy, and irresistible, as is the piano melody. Then, smack dab in the center of all the energy, there’s a psychedelic backward guitar break that slows things up and accents the return of that big happy chorus which now has found a chiming guitar to add to the fun.

The pop grooves get deeper. “Don’t Leave It in Our Hands” gushes with excitement. Male and female voices alternate lead vocals. The bass cuts through the song. And Jeff Baron’s guitars get heavy. Well, great pop song heavy. And then “In the Key of Me” slows things up with a complicated melody that is laced with an echo of arty Baroque rock. An oboe and clarinet yearn throughout the song. Time signatures change, and those harmonies soar.

And talk about Baroque pop music, “Modern Rain” could be mistaken for a great lost track from Nick Garrie’s equally lost classic The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas, which itself, has a root that touches the best of The Beatles’ pop sound. Listen to that tough guitar and backing vocals on the tune. Yes, it truly does sound like The Fab Four. And it’s all the better for that nod to the past.

Yet another idea: The Essex Green embrace such a wide canvas of pop music that they are free to, quite frankly, do whatever they so desire. And this record certainly does breathe the same fresh air as the music of those late Sixties when anything was seemingly possible. This was a time when “Helter Skelter” was just a wild crazy thought of a song, and no one knew about Charles Manson’s family.

This music still holds the idea that the world can be changed.

That fresh air continues with the breezy “Catatonic.” There are Who-like chords and a wonderful Sasha Bell vocal that covers the expansive melody. “Patsy Desmond” is a piano ballad with lush strings, acoustic guitar, harmonized vocals, some odd voices, and a chorus that explodes with beauty. The song ends in a dreamy blur. 

But then, I ask, what did Ringo Starr start with the odd cover of “Act Naturally” on Help? Yeah, I remember, so many albums way back then had to have one country number just to up the Americana angle and thank The Byrds for their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. So here it is. “Bye Bye Crow” is country to its core. That’s not a bad thing because, as stated, these Essex Green people do whatever they so desire. It’s just that the other songs integrate so many different sounds, and this country picked romp is just a tad obvious. But the vocals are wonderful, and ultimately, it’s a pleasurable diversion.

And, of course, even The Stones had their own “Dead Flowers.”

So there.

But on to better things. “Waikiki” is a return to the great pop center of the record. And “January Says” is absolutely gorgeous. Yet another sublime chorus embraces the dramatic guitar and organ that frame the tune. The ending is pure psych and recalls The Beatles’ “Rain.” This is classic psych-pop-folk-rock music.

This album continues through the final songs to create great music. “Slanted by Six” is another earnest ballad that gathers steam, guitars, vocal harmonies, and (finally) Sasha’s flute playing. “Smith 9th” returns to the quick chords of the first tune. And again, the band trades lead vocals which flow seamlessly into yet another great chorus and a bit more of that “Come Dancing” organ. “Another Story” struggles (like penultimate cuts sometimes do) to separate itself from the other songs on the record, but it’s still a clever bit of pop music.

The album finishes with the gentle “Bristol Sky.” This pure folk psych with a graceful melody and, thankfully, just a little more of Sasha’s flute. It’s a warm good-bye.

You know, just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a load of bad music out to get me. On the way home from the grocery store, I stopped for gas. Sure enough, fuel pumps now have video screens and speakers. I had to watch a commercial for new windows and endure Starship’s “We Built This City on Rock and Roll.” Heck, I would have preferred “Sussudio,” which, at least, doesn’t pretend to have an idea. But, as I said, there’s no harm in wishing for a better world, and if not that, just a little better music is always nice. And this record, with its pop, psych, rock and country hybrid sound, is just that: It’s great music that I wouldn’t mind hearing anywhere and any time of day.

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