It’s amazing the amount of power, influence and credit a record label can wield for an artist. The Goliaths can affect everything from opening slots on coliseum tours to key positioning in films and commercials. The Davids offer a hefty helping of street cred thanks to a less corporate framework and an established niche of devoted fans. Each side has its advantages. It’s often easy to determine which artists belong on which side, based largely on the mainstream’s attraction to a band, but pop music is the hardest to read. The career of a group such as the Essex Green could be viewed completely differently depending on its association with a David or with a Goliath.
With their third album, Cannibal Sea, the three songwriters in the Essex Green (Chris Zilter, Sasha Bell and Jeff Baron) have created an elegant pop record with a sound so crisp it could win the hearts of a Brooklyn hipster and her neglected, squarer mother. The melodies and songs touch on the classic sounds of ’60s pop acts such as the Byrds and the Mamas and Papas but include modern-day influences from the likes of Stereolab and Belle & Sebastian. The twelve songs on Cannibal Sea vary from light, poppy ditties to folk-strutting jingles full of harmonizing, and the various vocal strengths of each songwriter are used whenever necessary. Cannibal Sea‘s saccharine pop flirts at times with levels likely to cause diabetic seizures in the biggest Cardigans and Komeda fans, but the band does a good job of maintaining the album’s balance.
The market has become cluttered with indie and mainstream acts trying to capitalize on the retro-pop sound. With groups such as the Shout Out Louds and Morningwood coming from the bigger labels and others such as Of Montreal and the Fruit Bats representing the independents, it’s interesting to see how each side capitalizes on a sound hasn’t fallen from cool. Cannibal Sea can play swimmingly with either David or Goliath, but it seems that the Essex Green’s indie cred is what makes it more appealing. It’s as if there is something in the Merge label that says, “This is music made without profit in mind, so it’s okay for it to be so damn poppy and derivative.” Either way, the members of the Essex Green know what they’re doing when it comes to perfecting pop songwriting, and Cannibal Sea is their best testament to that yet.