Published Jun 26, 2018Casual observers may be forgiven for wondering if they'd ever see another album from the Essex Green. After debuting their appealing update on '60s pop-psychedelia with Everything Is Green in 1999, the Brooklyn-based band issued two more well-received albums at a traditional pace before taking a long hiatus — their last, the highly-regarded Cannibal Sea, appeared in 2006.
Whatever they've been up to however (insiders know that all three members play in various other bands, most notably the Ladybug Transistor), their growth as musicians has hardly stagnated, as Hardly Electronic continues their string of excellent releases without missing a beat.
Without discarding it outright, the band continue to grow confidently beyond their initial template of neo-pop psychedelia, jumping nimbly from folk-rock to country-rock to delicate chamber pop pieces with ease here, boasting sophisticated arrangements and top-notch songwriting regardless of style.
Straight folk-pop openers "Sloane Ranger" and "The 710" will easily win you over, but it's the soaring coda of "Don't Leave It In Our Hands" that signals you're in for something truly special. Other highlights include the light, country-rock grooves of "Catatonic" and the breezy, mandolin-laced "Waikiki," but you could find something good to say about pretty much anything here.
Vocals are once again shared generously between Sasha Bell and Chris Ziter, and the album is frankly a master class in male/female vocal dynamics, with structured harmonizing complemented by all sorts of one-off flourishes and accents. The instrumentation is similarly rich, with organ, piano, strings and woodwinds all co-existing tastefully.
Hardly Electronic is a mature and polished album from a band confident enough to let their influences guide their sound without overshadowing it. Longtime fans will obviously snap this up, but anyone with an interest in classically-minded pop arrangements and great songs will find much to like on this unexpected gem from the Essex Green. (Merge)