As Dave Lowery (of Cracker) might say, "what the world needs now is another New Pornographers like I need a hole in my head". Ok, maybe that's harsh. I really don't mean that we've reached some sort of event horizon concerning infectious indie pop bands. Maybe, when it comes to the Essex Green is closer to "what the world needs now is a new Kinks so I can get you in bed". Yes, that seems a little closer to the truth.
Cannibal Sea is the third album from this trio made up of Chris Zitter, Sasha Bell and Jeff Baron. They are cut from the same cloth as the power-pop rock indie bands such as the aforementioned New Pornographers, Papas Fritas and Belle & Sebastian that take their inspiration from the likes of the Kinks, Fleetwood Mac and the Mama's & the Papa's. It is evident that the Essex Green is very concerned with soothing our troubled souls through music and the gentle melodies they create do just that.
Cannibal Sea is about as far musically as you can be from the grisly mental image the album title implies. It's chock full of hummable melodies, sweet harmonies and enough sugar and spice and everything nice. For a band based out of Brooklyn, the Essex Green exudes so much California pop rock that practically glitters in the warm sun.
If there's one thing I like, it's healthy use of an organ in any song (or at least a faux-organ as the case might be.) "Cardinal Points" starts with a playful organ line that is mimicked by Sasha singing some nonsense lyrics over the melody. The song slowly builds into a 70's rock song that would put Wings to shame but without the pretentious McCartney atmosphere. This driving beat is continued on "Elsinore" where Sasha seems to morph into Liz Phair (the good one, not the evil clone that has taken her name today) as she sings time is getting wise to my ways. One of the obvious gems on Cannibal Sea is "Don't Know Why (You Stay)" that comes off as a toned down New Pornographers song, rushing in with infectious guitars and mingled male-female vocals across the chorus. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to resist the catchiness of the song as it burrows into your cortex like the only native of Ceti Alpha Five. Meanwhile, "Penny & Jack" captures more of the early 80's power-pop sound of Elvis Costello or House of Love, combining a smooth melody on bittersweet lyrics. "Rabbit" takes a page from the Gordon Lightfoot songbook with an eerie, folksy tone that sets it apart from most of the other tracks on Cannibal Sea (in fact it might be the only song that actually fits the title of the disc).
There is a tendency to feel a little too familiar and repetitious on Cannibal Sea. When listening to the album, the songs can feel like they just blend into each other as less compelling songs like "Snakes in the Grass", "The Pride" or "Uniform" bridge the gaps between the true gems. It might be the curse of writing delicate pop songs – call it the "Belle & Sebastian Effect" – where the sing-song-y 60's pop melodies sneak their way into every song and inadvertently give all the music a similar tone. This is not to say that it makes the songs bad. In fact, it probably adds more than it takes away, but it can create uniformity to the album that can feel a little monotonous after 35 minutes.
The Essex Green have created in Cannibal Sea another excellent addition to the indie pop revival that was kicked off by Belle and the gang. Every note feels like it was intentionally picked to keep you safe and warm. It might not be the most exciting album you would ever hear, but the comfort factor that it brings is indescribable. It has that certain sense of wistfulness and reminiscence for a simpler time that many of us yearn for even though we never experience that so-called simpler time in the first place. Only the Essex Green would be able to make you want to spend time in the Cannibal Sea.