Evans the Death – Expect Delays

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Expect delays, indeed. Despite having and adoring Evans the Death’s first album for some time, it took me inexplicably long to acquire the second album from the always reliable Slumberland Records. I have rarely been so gratified by a purchase. I love this band.

What I Think of This Album

It’s not that this album is better or weaker than the band’s debut. It’s that they are both of a piece, and I am very tempted to tell you that the best way to listen to each is to play them back-to-back. Evans the Death should be an immersive experience, honoring the strength and beauty of Katherine Whittaker’s swooping vocals and Dan Moss’s intrepid songcraft. 

As with the first album, I feel like it would be insulting to single out individual tracks. Expect Delays is art, and you should experience the flow and the moods and the sonics in one dedicated sitting. Whittaker’s voice is like a moody, recalcitrant magic carpet and you’d be a fool to chop up the thrilling ride into three minute legs. For his part, Moss seems to have a bottomless bag of tricks, and is able to pull from shoegaze, indie-pop, and girl-group with ease and aplomb.

For an album dripping with drama and offering possibly disorienting vistas, it remains solidly grounded and thoroughly satisfying on a molecular level. I have fully and willingly given myself over to this record.

The Best Thing About This Album

How it creates it’s own world.

Release Date

2015

The Cover Art

Utterly horrible.

Elf Power – Walking With the Beggar Boys

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

2023 was the Year of Elf Power. Not really. But sort of. During the year, I saw Elf Power live; bought two Elf Power albums (only one of which I am keeping); saw the Elephant 6 documentary (The Elephant 6 Recording Co.); and read a book about the Elephant 6 collective (Endless, Endless:  A Lo-Fi History of the Elephant 6 Mystery). My main takeaway? Laura Carter is not getting enough credit.

What I Think of This Album

This sixth proper Elf Power album (not counting the covers album) is a bit of a departure for the band, moving away from the Tolkienesque imagery of their psychedelic work and embracing more conventional sounds. It is a refreshing modulation, succeeding as both a sign of growth and skill and also a reminder of relevance. Way to go, Laura Carter and Andrew Rieger (and others).

“Never Believe” is basically power-pop, with some creative keyboard effects and Rieger’s plaintive vocals. A glammier tone is struck on the title track, with the added feature of guest vocals from Vic Chestnutt, and an insistent repetitive guitar line and some tinkling piano and call-and-response backing vocals.

“Drawing Flies” is fantastic with its coy sighing vocals and not-coy fuzz guitar. There is a simple, jangly prettiness to “Evil Eye,” whereas “Don’t Let It Be” charges ahead with punkish energy. And “Hole In My Shoe” gradually earns its place on the album, with some clever instrumentation. 

The neo-bluegrass elements of “Empty Pictures” provide a beautiful backdrop for an unexpectedly poignant ballad. The closer is “Big Thing” and it is a big thing indeed, muscular and loud and, dare I say, joyous.

Less successful is the folky “The Stranger,” which is way too precious, coming off like a kudzu-strewn Robyn Hitchcock covering Simon & Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory.” The band doubles down on creativity with “The Cracks,” an ominous piece replete with industrial percussion and creepy keyboard lines, though that isn’t to say it’s a pleasant listen. “Invisible Men” never develops into anything distinctive.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Empty Pictures,” though it is a close call with several other tracks.

Release Date

2004

The Cover Art

Boring and self-indulgent. I really don’t need to see your kids and pets on your album cover.

The Everly Brothers – All-Time Original Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Close in age and closer in harmony, the Everly Brothers were a major influence on the Beatles, Hollies, and Byrds, to say nothing of Simon & Garfunkel (whose cover of “Wake Up, Little Susie’ is how I discovered the sibling duo). Born in the late 1930s, Don and Phil Everly grew up in a musical family, appearing often on their father’s radio show in Iowa from an early age and eventually moving to Tennessee, where they decamped to Nashville as soon as they finished high school. Coming under the wing of Chet Atkins, the pair signed to the Acuff-Rose publishing firm (the subject of a paen by Uncle Tupelo) in 1956 and started recording songs by the spousal team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (who also wrote for Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, and whose work has been covered by Dylan, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, and Gram Parsons, among many others). Their hit-making days in the U.S. lasted into 1962, though they had better luck for a few more years in the U.K. and Canada. Drug addiction followed as their career stalled, though the pair recorded a well-received album (Roots) in 1968; the act split up in 1973. In the intervening years they pursued solo careers (Phil worked with Warren Zevon), but the brothers got back together in 1983 (they subsequently worked with Dave Edmunds and appeared on Paul Simon’s Graceland) and this time they lasted, with diminishing frequency, until Phil died in 2014. Don died in 2021.

What I Think of This Album

This carefully curated collection captures 16 chart hits – in chronological order, thank the lord – from 1957 to 1961. My personal favorite is “Take a Message to Mary,” followed very closely by “Cathy’s Clown,” but you can take your pick from a slew of standouts like “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” and “Bye Bye Love.” 

I do think “Bird Dog” is incredibly annoying, however. “Ebony Eyes” (written by John D. Laudermilk) is pretty awesome, and likely the inspiration for the Bigger Lovers’ “Casual Friday.”

Don generally sings the low parts and Phil the high ones; Don’s guitar playing has been hailed by Keith Richards, and he does do a cool bit on the intro to “Bye Bye Love.” Each was also a songwriter, with Don creating “‘Til I Kissed You” and Phil composing “When Will I Be Loved.” Apparently it is disputed who wrote “Cathy’s Clown.” 

Chet Atkins plays electric guitar on some of these songs. Floyd Cramer, of Elvis’s backing band, plays the excellent piano part on “Cathy’s Clown.” Pete Wingfield, who produced Dexy’s Midnight Runners and played keys for a number of artists, was in the Everly Brothers’ backing band after they reunited.

Some authorities take issue with the mixes on this Rhino comp, and also note that it omits several key songs from the brothers’ repertoire.

The brothers had a cousin named Jewel Guy, who changed his name to James Best professionally, and achieved pop culture fame as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Best Thing About This Album

The harmonies are heavenly.

Release Date

November, 1999

The Cover Art

Perfectly acceptable for a comp.


Everclear – Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

God help me, I sincerely believed this band had staying power. I thought Art Alexakis was a talented songwriter, hard worker, and savvy marketer, and that the dynamic with Greg Eklund and Craig Montoya would fuel a long career marked by good-to-great releases. I was wrong. Not necessarily about Alexakis, who is talented and driven, but he probably miscalculated in ways that he could not recover from, and the band fell apart once the rhythm section left. Songs From an American Movie  Vol. One: Learning How to Smile sold well – it went platinum – but the companion follow-up was unwisely released very quickly after and pretty much died on arrival. That said, it was a sort of grating hard rock album that probably was too much of a left turn after the progression from Afterglow to Vol. One. After the following album stiffed, Montoya and Eklund departed – the personal fallout from the Afterglow tour likely never having been addressed, much less repaired – and Everclear has limped along with hired guns ever since, mostly haunting the ‘90s revival circuit.

What I Think of This Album

This album really should not work at all. First, it arrived as the core of the trio was beginning to crack, highlighted by a disastrous tour of Australia that saw Art Alexakis physically attack Craig Montoya on stage and resulted in Montoya leaving the band for a spell. Second, there is the ill-advised and even worse sounding cover of “Brown Eyed Girl.” Third, the decision to base “A.M. Radio” on “Mr. Big Stuff,” the 1971 hit for Jean Knight on the Stax label, further betrays a troubling lack of historical perspective. Fourth, and most critically, this concept album – the first salvo of a two album effort – shows that Alexakis decided he wanted to be an artist instead of a rock star, and the problem with that decision is that it meant that he failed to grasp that he was already an artist. There was no need go to full Queensrÿche.  

But here I am, enjoying the shit out of Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile, like some idiot. For all my criticism and worry, the goddamn thing is a success. Tuneful and warm and the poppiest thing the band had created by miles, it somehow manages to avoid the pitfalls of pretension and the sins of sappiness. 

Filled with samples, loops, keyboards, banjo, ukelele, mandolin, brass, and strings, this album puts it all out there with Alexakis’s trademark confidence. That it is supposed to mostly document the early, sunny days of a new relationship helps, as there is a large vein of positivity running through the record that you can’t help but buy into. And naturally, Alexakis excels on the rare tunes that revolve around negative emotions, even when he steps into the shoes of his own child witnessing parental conflict (“Wonderful”) or half-embracing a mature perspective on “Now That It’s Over.”

Drummer Greg Eklund takes the mike on “The Honeymoon Song.” Petra Haden of that dog. sings on “Annabella’s Song.” The band thanks Cheap Trick, Soul Coughing, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The audacity that it took to pull this off.

Release Date

July, 2000

The Cover Art

The framing evokes the cinematic title, but the subject matter is silly, at best.

Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I saw Everclear play a short set at Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago in support of this album. Afterwards, they autographed merch, including the slipcover of my CD. They had a touring guitarist with them (Steve Birch) and he signed the album, too, and not to be a dick, but that bothered me. That dude should not have been sitting at the table, signing shit like he was in Everclear. He. Was. Not. In. Everclear. The band also had a fan contest to win a free ticket to their upcoming show at Metro. The contest involved answering a short list of written questions that they distributed at the Tower Records appearance. One of the questions was something like “What Are Your Three Favorite Bands?” I don’t remember my complete answer (I am sure the first band I listed was the Smiths and I suspect the second was the Clash), but I know that as a lark I wrote The Flying Burrito Brothers as the third band. I actually do like their first two albums, but at the time I was not actually a fan; I just thought that anyone reading the submissions would see a bunch of answers like Nirvana and Soundgarden and that they would be amused by the relative incongruity of my response. I ended up winning the tickets, and I firmly believe in my heart that Art Alexakis specifically picked my submission because of my answer to that question. I don’t think I made it to the show, however.

What I Think of This Album

If Sparkle and Fade brought Everclear into the public eye, So Much for the Afterglow made them fucking stars. It spun off five singles and sold over two million copies, and these songs were all over the radio and MTV. It covers a lot of the same thematic ground as the major label debut, but it’s much poppier, while still rocking. Part of this is due to the fact that Greg Eklund is fully in charge of the kit on all the songs this time, and he swings more than his predecessor. But mostly it’s that Art Alexakis, always the tactician, wrote his strongest batch of songs and expertly emphasized the melody while keeping the punk influence modulated to just the right degree to appeal to as wide a population as possible. Sure, it’s calculated but that doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic. 

There is not a bad song on this album. Some are slighter than others, but every single track is eminently listenable. And there are also great songs on here, full of welcome and well-thought out production touches and engaging arrangements. Indeed, the band makes a statement right away with the unexpected Beach Boys-in-the-moshpit sound of the title track, replete with inescapable vocal harmonies and irresistible handclaps, as well as a na-na-na countermelody, nice little guitar solo, and buried vocalizations from Alexakis, to say nothing of a false ending. I fucking love a false ending! This is easily my favorite song on this album.

“White Men in Black Suits” is probably the sleeper track of this disc; it is adeptly paced, and has some simple but critical guitar lines, as well as evocative lyrics. Plus, you know, the harmonies. Alexakis upends conventional notions (if not definitions) on “Normal Like You,” which would likely come off as pretentious if delivered by anyone else, but Alexakis sells it and here I am, slapping my dollars down on the counter. 

There is a delicacy to the arguably autobiographical “I Will Buy You a New Life,” which provides a convincing glimpse of blue-collar romanticism that X would be proud of. Rami Jaffe of the Wallflowers (and eventually, the Foo Fighters) adds a very Wallflowers-like organ part. When I moved to Portland, I rented an apartment with a view of the West Hills; I would sing the corresponding lyric from this track to myself almost every time I stepped out onto my balcony. As enjoyable is “One Hit Wonder,” with a great melody, a horn section, a neat little bass fill from Craig Montoya (who rarely gets to show off on Everclear songs), and more of the harmonies that dominate this album.

“Father of Mine” is devastating and more than just arguably autobiographical, and a very strange choice for a single, but hey, it was 1997. Not one of my favorites, honestly, but it is emotionally powerful in a way I cannot deny. 

Diversity and creative stretching are on ample display throughout. The Pro Tools creation “El Distorto de Melodica” is pretty cool for an instrumental; I can’t tell if the brittle, harsh sound is intentional or not, but it’s the equivalent of smashing your face into a tub full of microscopic glass shards. “Everything for Everyone” offers a heap of programming, plus more harmonies and a funky part from Eklund. There are strings on “Amphetamine,” an affecting story of a haunted but hopeful recovering addict. A banjo shows up on “Why I Don’t Believe in God.” 

Again, it was 1997, so yes, Veruca, there is a hidden track:  “Hating You for Christmas.” It doesn’t suck.

The success of this album, to be sure, is not simply the result of Alexakis’s vision. SMFTA is definitely a major label album with major label resources behind it. The Everclear mastermind may give himself top producer billing but five other guys (including Eklund and Montoya) were also involved in the production. The songs were recorded and mixed at six different studios. The list of engineers is like five fucking feet long. I’m not entirely sure what involvement Alexakis even had in “Distorto,” which is obliquely credited to Lars Fox (of Grotus) who gets a shoutout for “loops and samples.” In addition, apparently Alexakis sang his vocals to sped-up versions of the backing tracks, wanting the songs to come across as faster and more energetic.

This is my favorite Everclear album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“So Much for the Afterglow” – the honeymoon is NOT over.

Release Date

October, 1997

The Cover Art

The image here is for the slipcover. The art in the jewel case is very similar, except Alexakis and Montoya are leaning against their respective walls and everyone’s feet are lined up, so that the trio’s bodies create an inverted triangle, and also it’s sepia toned. All in all, pretty cool. Simple and artsy. Reminds me a little of The Clash cover. Oh, and it was designed by Mr. Touring Guitarist, Steven Birch (who also did the Sparkle and Fade art).

Everclear – Sparkle and Fade

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I feel like Everclear gets a very bad rap. Of all the bands I like, Everclear is probably the most widely disrespected. Most of the ill will is due to Art Alexakis, who is by many if not all accounts a very difficult human being and whose version of critical events is not always consistent with those of others involved. That may be and it’s shitty, but a significant part of people’s dislike of Alexakis also appears to revolve around some indie-purist distaste for his drive and desire for success. Alexakis survived a difficult early life of poverty, fatherlessness, heroin addiction, the death of a brother due to overdose, and the death of a girlfriend by suicide, only to see his career as a musician stall by the time he moved from California to Portland in the early 1990s. He formed Everclear with bassist Craig Montoya and a drummer, released an EP and then their debut album in 1993. New drummer Craig Eklund came aboard for the recording of Sparkle and Fade, by which time Alexakis’s unparalleled work ethic had landed the band on Capitol.

What I Think of This Album

Dismiss them as grunge carpetbaggers if you want (though you’d be wrong to), but then you also have to agree that there is more to Everclear than your average Sponge or Silverchair. In fact, Art Alexakis is a masterful storyteller who knows exactly how to work pop and Americana into his hard rock framework to come up with some of the most compelling and catchy songs about blue-collar urban despair ever to emanate from a pair of speakers.

I don’t know to what degree these songs are autobiographical or if they’re pure fiction, and I don’t care. It really makes no difference to me. What matters is that Alexakis sells the shit out of the narratives; he fills them with life and makes them true, regardless of whether they are real. Undoubtedly, his own experiences inform his songwriting and his lived pain influences the passion and sincerity of his delivery, but not everyone is mature or talented enough to tap into those feelings with such clarity and purpose. The man may or may not be a dick, but he is definitely an artist.

The heart(spark) of the album is the material that moves away from the noise of the band’s earlier work and figures out how to marry the energy of that time with a more melodic approach. Massive hit “Santa Monica” and other tracks (including personal favorite “Heartspark Dollarsign”) are really modern updates of the sound that X valiantly sought to popularize, and again, Alexakis is no less a raconteur than John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Yes, some of the lyrics may be a bit on the nose and there is little poetry to the lyrics, but this is gritty, realist storytelling of the highest order. Put another way, if Social Distortion is punk and country together, then Everclear is hard rock and country together.

I once read a story that Alexakis was invited to play at his daughter’s preschool or kindergarten and he performed a rewritten version of “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” that was called “You Make Me Feel Like I’m Four.” That is fantastic.

Everclear thanks like a million people in the liner notes, including Belly, X, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, the Poster Children, Small Factory, and Magnapop.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Heartspark Dollarsign,” motherfucker.

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I know that that’s chocolate cake, but my first thought is always always always that it’s poop. And I am not into poop.

Eugenius – Oomalama

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Eugene Kelly was one-half of the Vaselines with Frances McKee, that band occupying a somewhat outsized place in the indie-pop world given their meager output and lack of success (much of their renown due to a late arriving blessing from Kurt Cobain). They formed in 1986, released two EPs and one album, and then broke up. They reformed in 2006 and have played live very sporadically while also releasing two more albums, in 2010 and 2014. In fairness to all involved, the original run of the Vaselines did feature a rhythm section. McKee (who had previously played in a band with Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Duglas (not a typo) T. Stewart of BMX Bandits, and Sean Dickson of the Soup Dragons) has released albums under other band names and as a solo artist. Kelly, for his part, formed Captain America in 1990 and when Marvel’s lawyers came calling, changed the name to Eugenius (which was his nickname). With a somewhat messy line-up situation, Eugenius released two albums and then Kelly just proceeded under his own name thereafter. I used to own both Eugenius albums, and while I got rid of Mary Queen of Scots, I would be willing to give it a listen again.

What I Think of This Album

There is a very appealing slacker vibe to these fourteen tracks, with the band deceptively shambling their way through a set that includes one song (“Bed-In”) about how much Eugene Kelly likes sleeping and watching tv, another (“Breakfast”) that apologizes for how he “can’t help falling down,” and the title track, which basically just repeats the absurd “oomalamaa” over and over and also makes an unrelated claim about, I guess, resurrection. In many ways, the album is something the Lemonheads might have created if Evan Dando was more self-effacing and had a better sense of humor (and maybe, you know, laid off the drugs). Throughout, Kelly lends his everyman voice to catchy, simple songs that for all their noise suggest a fundamentally cheerful and lighthearted outlook, as you might expect from titles like “I’m the Sun,” “Wow!” and “Buttermilk.”

For all of its gleeful shagginess, the truth is that Kelly is an ace songwriter and guitarist Gordon Keen unleashes some fantastic leads amidst the mess. Indeed, there is a slippery little riff at the end of the delirious solo on “Bed-In” that belongs in some hall of fame somewhere. Additional very impressive guitar goodness can be heard on the quiet/loud “Down On Me,” fiery “Flame On,” and the rockin’ “Here I Go,” as well as on most other tracks, really.

The band sprinkles just enough surprises in to keep things interesting, not that anyone is in danger of getting bored with Oomalama. Thus, there is some subtle organ on “Breakfast,” strings on the ballad “Hot Dog” (written by Keen), and pleasant (dare I say, sunny?) harmonies on “I’m the Sun.” 

The U.S. release adds three tracks to the eleven on the original U.K. release. One is a robust cover of “Indian Summer” by Beat Happening, the spiritual American cousin to Kelly’s previous band, the Vaselines. This song was also covered by Luna. The other two – “Wow” and “Wannabe” were (along with “Bed-In”) originally on the first Captain America EP. “Wow” is a sludgy delight, reminiscent maybe of the Stooges, and “Wannabe,” which seems like it borrows the verses from Chuck Berry, employs some echo chamber sonics on Kelly’s vocals.

Some of the tracks were recorded with an early version of the band, resulting in a confusing credits situation, though it is clear that Gordon Keen of BMX Bandits has always been the band’s guitarist. Francis MacDonald of Teenage Fanclub (and also manager of Camera Obscura) drums on some songs. Duglas T. Stewart contributes as does Joe McAlinden, both of BMX Bandits. The band thanks Teenage Fanclub in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar work of Gordon Keen.

Release Date

September, 1992

The Cover Art

A head-scratcher, but I really like it.

Evans the Death – Evans the Death

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I know basically next to nothing about this band. I bought this album during the same Slumberland sale that netted me Cause Co-Motion!, Golden Grrrls, Pants Yell, Lichtenstein, the Gold-Bears, Sleepyhead, and I think Tony Molina and one or both Veronica Falls albums. The band name comes from a Dylan Thomas play (first commissioned for the radio and then adapted for the stage, which is not something I’d ever heard of). This London band formed in 2011 and released three albums before calling it a day in 2017. My understanding is the third album sounds radically different from the first two. I have no independent knowledge of that.

What I Think of This Album

The star of the show here is vocalist/synthesist Katherine Whitaker, whose dramatic vocals power these dozen short songs, though main songwriter/guitarist Dan Moss deserves a lot of credit, too, for his noisy, clattering, moody pieces.

This is an album to be savored as a whole. Sure, the individual songs are great, but the true force of Whitaker’s thrilling voice and the band’s consistently energetic approach is best appreciated over the half-hour or so it takes to get from one end of Evans the Death to the other.

Accordingly, I think it would actually be a disservice to comment on individual songs. Rather, the great pleasure of Evans the Death’s debut is to let Whitaker pierce your soul while the music runs over you like a very large and only slightly out of control lawnmower.

I would have loved to have seen a show with Evans the Death and labelmates Veronica Falls, whose second album was co-produced by Rory Atwell (Test Icicles), who recorded and mixed this one.

The back of the CD enumerates the first six songs accurately, and then each of the next six songs is individually identified as song 7.

The Best Thing About This Album

I am very tempted to honor the song title “A Small Child Punched Me In the Face,” but I am instead going to sing the praises of Katherine Whitaker’s glorious vocals.

Release Date

April, 2012

The Cover Art

The main image is too small – poor use of white space. But the actual image is equally disturbing and mysterious, and I dig it.

Electric Light Orchestra – All Over the World: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

If you think of Electric Light Orchestra, you think of Jeff Lynne, as you should. But ELO was Roy Wood’s baby and brainchild, conceived while he was leading the Move. Due to contractual obligations, the Move coexisted with ELO from 1970-72, with Wood, Lynne, and drummer Bev Bevan forming the core of both groups. Wood left ELO by 1972, during the recording of their second album, to form Wizzard. Lynne stepped up and the rest is history. The band dissolved in 1986, as Lynne moved to production work and other projects (like the Traveling Wilburys). Bevan formed ELO II (with the blessing of Lynne), and Lynne himself eventually reformed ELO (without Bevan). Bevan has also drummed for Black Sabbath and Paul Weller (the Jam).

What I Think of This Album

I am fairly certain there are about 59 different ELO Best of comps, and I have no ability or desire to convince you that this is the one you should own. From what I have read, it is not in fact the best such collection, as it apparently skips over some hits in favor of album cuts. But it is the one *I* happen to own, and for now, it suffices for my purposes. It is not sequenced chronologically and omits songs from multiple albums, focusing on tracks from 1973 to 1983. And if you care about such things, it does not feature any contributions from Roy Wood. Again, to the extent this album does not paint the most accurate picture of ELO, I am 100% okay with that. Well, 95% okay, as I can see myself replacing it with a better comp someday.

I am fully here for the absolute ridiculousness that is ELO. Every possible criticism of Electric Light Orchestra’s songs and sound is, to my ear, a positive. Shameless Beatles theft? Cool. Gloopy layer upon gloopy layer of keyboards and strings? Fuck, yes.  Pretentious meldings of genres like classical, disco, opera, and rock? Bring it on. Candy-coated and carnival-colored melodies? Perfect.

Almost every track here is pretty fucking irresistible. If you hate this and wish Jeff Lynne had died in his crib as an infant, fine (though there are better targets for your anger). I can actually understand that. But I suggest you give yourself over to the joys of Lynne’s undeniable enthusiasm and studio wizardry. This album contains twenty tracks of unbeatable and unabashed fucking FUN. The highlights are too many to mention because they are all highlights:  “Mr. Blue Sky;” “Rock and Roll Is King;” “Rockaria!;” “Don’t Bring Me Down;” “Hold On Tight.”

Marc Bolan of T. Rex plays guitar on “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.”

The Best Thing About This Album

I am giving credit to the string players and keyboardists (especially Richard Tandy).

Release Date

June, 2005

The Cover Art

It looks like a giant Simon toy, but what I appreciate is that it is a mix of the grandiose and the silly in the same way ELO’s songs are. So, yeah, it works.

The Essex Green – Hardly Electronic

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

So, the Brooklyn-based Essex Green released the excellent Cannibal Sea in 2006, toured globally behind it, and then disappeared for over a decade. Sasha Bell had a child, moved to San Francisco, and then went to Montana to pursue elk-related science, and also released music under her own name. Chris Ziter returned to Vermont and started both a family and a tech company (and also got into fermentation?). Jeff Baron built and lived on a houseboat that cruised the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers (as an aside, I always thought The Monongahela Monsters would be a good name for a mariachi-punk band). At some point, Baron moved back to Vermont and with the help of technology and airplanes, the band started recording their fourth album. They also toured behind it, and I saw them play at Sleeping Village in Chicago. It was a marvelous show, and I was thrilled beyond belief to have the opportunity to see them live. They also worked New Order’s “Age of Consent” into a medley, which put me over the moon.

What I Think of This Album

The best thing about this album is that it even exists. If that sounds like faint praise, then the problem is with you and not with me. Context matters. I suspect no one ever expected to hear (from) the Essex Green again, and that they managed to pick up where they left off after more than ten years of frustrating (and, eventually, inconsequential) silence is nothing short of a miracle. So that makes the fact that Hardly Electronic is a great platter the second best thing about it.

For an album recorded at six (and maybe more) locations in four states, to say nothing of being the product of a reunion a decade in the making, Hardly Electronic betrays nothing of its lengthy and peripatetic gestation. Bursting with melodies and Sasha Bell’s golden tones, this could have come out two years after Cannibal Sea. The band continues to deliver delightful, carefully crafted pop songs. 

Such songs include driving and burbly lead track “Sloane Ranger” (somewhat dated British slang akin to “preppy,” and which I think I heard someone utter on an episode of The Crown), which among other things, gives lie to the claim of the album title and more importantly reminds us of how wonderful Bell’s voice is. The brief backwards guitar and the glorious harmonies of Bell and Chris Ziter are among the many pleasures of “The 710.” Somehow the eye-opening “Don’t Leave It In Our Hands” surpasses both these tracks, reminding us of what this band is capable of, and shining so brightly it basically dares the New Pornographers to steal from it.

“Waikiki” is a showcase for Bell, who is generously supported by a pillowy, dreamy arrangement which unfortunately is over almost as soon as it begins. The loping “January Says” is classic Essex Green, washing over you like a gentle, warm, and neverending tide. And “Smith & 9th” is propelled by peppily strummed acoustic guitar and an earworm keyboard line. 

The trio also succeeds in working other sounds into their transcontinental mix. Lush orch-pop (verging on orch-prog) is represented by “In the Key of Me,” which hearkens back to the band’s roots in the Elephant 6 movement. There is a touch of soul to the organ-rich “Modern Rain,” which nonetheless leaves room for a short and stinging lead guitar part. They get slightly psychedelic on the star-bursting and inaptly titled “Catatonic.”

There are a couple of uncharacteristic stumbles. “Bye Bye Crow” is country pastiche taken a bootstep too far, and “Slanted By Six” is downright annoying, coming across like an ill-conceived Neko Case offering (that said, I can legit see some listeners being really drawn to it). Too, some tracks don’t leave much of an impression, like “Patsy Desmond” (which nonetheless has an interesting arrangement). But this mild criticism is offered only in the spirit of comprehensiveness; Hardly Electronic is a fantastic fucking album.

The Best Thing About This Album

I know that I already said that the best thing about is that it exists, which means I get to say something different this time. “Don’t Leave It In Our Hands” is an almost perfect encapsulation of the Essex Green’s artistry.

Release Date

June, 2018

The Cover Art

Look, I don’t like photos of topless kids. Infants and even toddlers are okay, but once you get to the tween years, then such images carry more than a whiff of suspicion about them. I am only accusing the Essex Green of poor judgment, nothing more. But even if you threw a Ban-lon shirt on the cover star, this art would still be pretty lousy.

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