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 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.

The Essex Green – Cannibal Sea

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

I for sure bought this at the Wabash Street Tower Records in Chicago during the workday, a frankly depressing outpost whose lethargic approach to retail was a harbinger of the chain’s demise. In any event, I am pretty sure this was my first Essex Green purchase, prompted by a positive album review in Magnet magazine, a resource that I loved and trusted. That semi-institution is also long gone now, a victim of various millennial economic and social forces that have devalued music and journalism (and, particularly, music journalism).

What I Think of This Album

On their third, and as far as I am concerned, best album, the Essex Green adopt a cosmopolitan pop stance that arguably brings them to the forefront of cool (as in calm and collected), intelligent indie. It’s a development that is not terribly surprising; they had already started to move beyond their ‘60s-specific persona on The Long Goodbye while also demonstrating that they were more literary and worldly than even your average Elephant 6 band. Accordingly, references both explicit and oblique to Homer, Shakespeare, and Dumas float by on the European-influenced Cannibal Sea (which really feels like it needs a “The”) and the band adds some new wave horsepower to their trusty orch/folk-pop engine. 

The most obviously catchy and arguably best song on the album is the synth-flecked “Don’t Know Why (You Stay),” which could be a New Pornographers’ track, with carefully arranged parts and harmonies, including a nice blunted guitar attack and a strong lead vocal from Chris Ziter. Much like “The Late Great Cassiopia” from The Last Goodbye, this song strongly suggests that the Essex Green perhaps functions best as a modern power-pop outfit.

But that would be a mistake and a loss, for as entertaining and enjoyable as it would be to get an album’s worth of such material, it is the Essex Green’s musical restlessness that is actually their greatest strength. Thus, “Rue de Lis” is a sprightly folk song that suggests Simon & Garfunkel at their sunniest, with wonderful harmonies from Sasha Bell and lush keyboard accompaniment. Meanwhile, the band kicks up a surprising racket on “Cardinal Points,” a deceptively modest tune that ends with some actual rocking out. 

Opening track “This Isn’t Farmlife” has a bouncy Motown beat that the trio (plus anonymous drummer(s)) adorns with strings, keyboards, and vocal harmonies to produce a pillowy and warm mini-masterpiece. And not-quite-balladish “Penny & Jack” is a very good approximation of  British indie-pop, with Ziter and Bell trading vocals. 

The variety continues with the string-plucked and moody “Rabbit“ which sounds downright Elizabethan, though the misleading callouts to York and Carlisle are actually part of a mid-Atlantic travelogue that spans Pennsylvania and dips into other nearby states. This expertly crafted song includes some impressively mournful violin in the background. Another fakeout comes on “Sin City,”  which is really about Ohio (contrasted in the song with Pittsburgh), but is really really about Bell’s beguiling vocals and the careful, open instrumentation that allows the song to bloom. 

Perhaps another contender for best tune is the stomping “Elsinore,” with Bell taking charge on vocals to some creative percussive accents in the background, all against a backdrop of keyboards and guitars. It makes you wish Hamlet and Ophelia had been granted the opportunity to enjoy this song together.

Other worthy tracks include the somewhat ominous “Snakes In the Grass,” which benefits from clever production touches, including some vaguely psychedelic (as in “A Day In the Life”) effects; the keyboard-forward, jittery “Uniform”; and the oddly martial (but also, uh, urinary) “The Pride.” Winsome closer “Slope Song” proves that there is not a bad tune on the album.

Kudos to co-producer Britt Myers who collaborated with the band on this outstanding record. One of the drummers (though, also, possibly the only drummer) was San Fadyl of the Ladybug Transistor.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Don’t Know Why (You Stay)”

Release Date

March, 2006

The Cover Art

The banner reminds me of a cross between Monty Python and Neutral Milk Hotel, and that’s probably not what anybody wanted. The actual artwork is pretty meh.

The Essex Green – The Long Goodbye

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

A little-known but wonderful trio, the Essex Green are humble practitioners of the pop arts. Originally from Vermont, where they played as Guppyboy, the threesome of Sasha Bell, Chris Ziter, and Jeff Baron decamped to Brooklyn and became the Essex Green in 1997. Invited to join the Elephant 6 collective, they issued their first album in 1999. The band also had cross-membership in the Ladybug Transistor and worked with Saturnine, a band that included Baron’s sister, Jennifer. As far as day jobs went, at least at some point Bell worked in documentary filmmaking, Baron did recording work, and Ziter was in web design.

What I Think of This Album

Yes, The Long Goodbye borrows heavily from the past, as the Essex Green updates classic ‘60s sounds – from folk-pop to chamber-pop to sunny California pop – but the band does more than just engage in retro exercises. The three have forged an identity on this album, and done so with sufficient self-possession to satisfy fans and sideline detractors. In fact, sometimes it seems like they are showing off and you know what, fucking good for them.

The band flexes its muscles early with the surprising “By the Sea,” which evokes gently rolling English hills with a bucolic flute part and angelic harmonies backing Sasha Bell’s distinctive and sweet lead vocal. Partway through, though, an unexpectedly aggressive lead guitar part appears and the flute part becomes more Summer of Love, leading to a veritable jam that would’ve rocked Golden Gate Park in 1969.

“The Late Great Cassiopia” is the standout out tune, with a Moe Tucker-influenced tom pattern (not a single cymbal is struck during this song, thank god) and a guitar riff that I would murder a close friend for. Bell once again does the honors on vocals, invoking the titular (though misspelled) constellation, New York magazine, and words of deeply romantic devotion. This wasn’t the song that made me fall in love with this band, but every time I hear it, I fall in love with them all over again.

Bell continues to dominate on “Our Lady In Havana,” which unfortunately is not a spy story (please return to this blog for more Graham Greene jokes), but very fortunately benefits from a spooky organ part and impressive supporting string work. Bell is again in the spotlight on the wonderful “Southern States,” offering perhaps her best vocal turn on the album.

The martial “Lazy May” employs an appealing rhyme scheme and heralds a return of the tougher guitar sound, at times evoking the Smiths’ “Sweet and Tender Hooligan.” I think it’s Chris Ziter singing lead, with Bell taking care of harmonies. I can’t say I love “Julia,” also with Ziter (presumptively) on vocals, but it’s also not a bad song.

The trio evokes a trippy, quasi-ecclesiastical Byrds/Band hybrid on “Old Dominion,” with some gorgeous harmonies. “Sorry River” is a lovely tune carried more than capably by Bell, whose voice continues to be a revelation. “Chartiers” is another thoughtful and melancholy pop song, with Ziter offering a tale of love lost (and referencing Chicago).

The band cannot capitalize lyrically on the promising joke of “The Whetherman,” but that doesn’t detract at all from a truly beautiful song, enhanced by strings and steered by Bell’s excellent vocal.

The band carefully constructs “The Boo Hoo Boy,” a meticulously arranged song which Ziter does a nice job with, eventually trapping listeners in its insistent swirl. Closing things out is “Berlin,” a simple and straightforward love song with Bell and ZIter harmonizing perfectly.

Apparently there is a version of this album that contains a short, alleged reprise of “The Boo Hoo Boy,” which references yet another Graham Greene work (The Quiet American), but I don’t have that on my copy. Also, the music publishing is credited to Quiet American Songs. And, album title The Long Goodbye is a Raymond Chandler book (and related movie starring Elliot Gould), so someone in this band really likes the detective/mystery genre.

Gary Olson of the Ladybug Transistor was involved in the recording. Thanked in the liner notes are Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballard of Superchunk (but more relevantly, heads of the Merge label, home of the Essex Green).

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Late Great Cassiopia” is a joy.

Release Date

May, 2003

The Cover Art

Sasha Bell’s comically chaste outfit, complete with flute, and the stuffy, self-important demeanor of Jeff Baron and Chris Ziter propel the New England boarding school scene depicted here to unsurpassed heights. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a joke or not, but regardless, I really enjoy it. The use of red, black, and white is excellent; not sure about the bird image.

Elf Power – Creatures

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

I have no good excuse for why I don’t own more Elf Power. Granted, I only have this album and the song “Jane” from the A Dream In Sound album to draw conclusions from, but even so – I am confident I need more Elf Power. An Elephant 6 band from Athens, Georgia, Elf Power began around 1994 as a mostly-solo project by Andrew Rieger. He eventually formalized things with multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter and bassist Bryan Poole (also known as Bryan Helium, and sometimes as The Late B.P. Helium) and at some point Aaron Wegelin joined on drums. The band has released fifteen albums through 2022, with Rieger and Carter as the only mainstays. They opened for REM and Wilco, and recorded with Vic Chesnutt. Wegelin became a chef in Los Angeles after leaving the band; he died in 2021.

What I Think of This Album

There is nothing terribly complicated on Creatures, which is besides the point. The point is that it sounds amazing – the band takes simple melodies and Reiger’s inviting, plaintive voice and carefully embellishes them with varied, fun, and compelling arrangements.

Thus, the band tears through “Everlasting Scream, which it coats in a mile-thick layer of distortion, whereas it adopts a jangly, light-psych approach on “Let the Serpent Sleep.” There is a delicacy to the playing on “The Creature,” which nonetheless comes across as ominous. Indeed, the title track is one of several that furthers the concept at the heart of this album – stories about mysterious, malevolent beasts from the murk. Incidentally, most of Reiger’s lyrics come across as Tolkien if he had grown up listening to Bauhaus and being tutored by Edgar Allan Poe, but only when you read them out of context. Surrounded by music, they sound dramatic but not cartoonish.

“Palace of the Flames” is the poppiest and prettiest of the tunes on offer, driven by keyboards and an insistent drumbeat. Laura Carter’s accordion, assisted by a strong cello part from guest Heather McIntosh and who knows how many keyboards, provides comforting warmth to the waltz “The Modern Mind.” 

“VIsions of the Sea” rides an ice sheet of instrumentation, only to be temporarily waylaid by a series of drones from outer space. While considerably more uptempo, neighboring song “Three Seeds” also relies on drones, and ends up sounding like Simon & Garfunkel backed by a more cheerful, less anarchic Mercury Rev. Closer “The Creature Part II” incorporates some world music percussion (I can’t tell what kind) and fronts Carter’s accordion while Reiger croons gently, leading to a lovely (and sort of druggy?) string part.

Guests include early band member Raleigh Hatfield, as well as Peter Erchick and W. Cullen Hart of fellow Elephant 6ers The Olivia Tremor Control. Heather McIntosh, who has played with Lil Wayne and Gnarls Barkley, now does television and movie scoring.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think it’s a tossup between Carter’s accordion and Wegelin’s drumming.

Release Date

May, 2002

The Cover Art

Not sure what this has to do with anything.I find it sort of disturbing, and not just because it’s a vulnerable-appearing child in the nude. I think it’s mostly the style of the artwork or the medium used. Anyway, it’s a fail for me.

  

El Goodo – El Goodo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The things I definitely know about this band are much more important than the things I barely know about this band. Emerging from the small but excellently-named town of Resolven, Wales in the mid-2000s, the quintet did not use last names. They did eventually reveal their surnames, and it turns out that three of them share the admittedly common “James.” And two of those Jameses are brothers, so this is a brothers band! They have released four albums in roughly a dozen years. They are friends with the Super Furry Animals. I don’t have any more information about the group. But I do know that they are fans of ’60s pop, favoring a jangly, hazy, ornate, lite-psychedelic sound, so that the nod to Big Star via their name is a bit misleading. At the same time, they also tip their hat to related bands from the ’80s and after.

What I Think of This Album

Nothing here is particularly original, but that is not the point. Not even close. El Goodo demonstrate a patent and steadfast dedication to ‘60s sounds and songcraft, as well as the ’80s and ’90s bands that updated those sounds, and their resolve in (yes!) doing so is admirable. This band knows what they love, and they are driven to celebrate it. This is an album of sunny harmonies, fulsome orchestration, and simple but engaging melodies. If that’s not for you, okay. At the barest minimum, you can play “spot the influence” and have a good time. 

For example, if the Jesus and Mary Chain had done a better and brighter (or at least, more ironic) job with the country leanings of Stoned and Dethroned, they would have created “If You Come Back.” More fundamentally, to the extent it is true that the Jesus and Mary Chain were, as someone once described, the Beach Boys crossed with the Velvet Underground, then “Honey” is the Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with the Beach Boys. That the title evokes JAMC’s iconic “Just Like Honey” cannot be an accident. Even less possibly happenstance is “Here It Comes,” which should have Lou Reed’s lawyers salivating, as it is pretty much “Heroin” with a different vocal melody and lyrics (the melody being reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s “Car Wash Hair,” instead). 

The Beach Boys passing a joint to the Byrds is what “If I Were a Song” sounds like, though I can also detect shades of Teenage Fanclub, particularly in the so-dumb-they’re-sweet-lyrics that Norman Blake specializes in (“If I was a song, I’d be about you, baby”). “Surreal Morning” apes Beachwood Sparks and maybe a little of the Waxwings with its pillowy, psychedelic country-rock. Bright and bouncy “Chalking the Lines” reminds me of nothing so much as Herman’s Hermits, again with hints of the Waxwings, augmented by brass and an experimental bridge.

The spaghetti western horns and bongos  of “I Saw Nothing” take you back to 1965, clutching the poncho of a laconic, anonymous drifter bent on revenge. The Mamas and the Papas could’ve recorded “What Went Wrong? (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)” but they would have had to have been very sad. Again, the clear reference to 1964 cinema in the title is a clue that the band knows exactly what they are doing.

Opener “Life Station” could be a lost Spacemen 3 track – narcotized, droney, blissful – though with a more delicate touch, as evinced by the (synthesized) woodwinds, at least until the bizarre, fractured ending. Spacemen 3 also influence “Silly Thoughts,” but this would be a Spacemen 3 more enamored with the Byrds than Suicide. 
The short “Esperanto Video” (what?) aspires to be an instrumental Pet Sounds outtake. “Stuck In the 60’s” is a little too candy-colored for me at the start, but this odd song about a time machine owes a lot to the spacier bands of Elephant 6; I love the reverby handclaps. “I Tried But I Failed” is a lullaby that is likewise reminiscent of Elf Power or Olivia Tremor Control.

The Best Thing About This Album

How it displays the band’s unabashed love of other bands.

Release Date

2006

The Cover Art

Neither good nor bad. I think the European release has different art.

Dressy Bessy – Dressy Bessy

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This is the album that made me fall in love with this band. Only after listening to their other albums, both those that came before and the ones that followed, did the unique nature of Dressy Bessy fully reveal itself. I can’t think of another indie band that got harder and louder as its members aged – it’s usually the other way around. But this is the first time that Dressy Bessy sounds tough. Granted, they took it too far on the next two albums before course correcting with the excellent Kingsize, but this self-titled masterpiece is where Tammy Ealom and Co. turned the corner to become a powerhouse.

What I Think of This Album

While there are several great Dressy Bessy albums, this is the best one. Tammy Ealom’s melodies have never been sharper and John Hill’s guitar is grittier and displays more bite than ever before. The sound just explodes from the speakers, bringing to mind the cover art of singles comp Little Music.

Dripping with attitude and distorted riffs, Dressy Bessy sounds like a statement of purpose, suggesting that the band was tired of being both handcuffed to its twee origins and dismissed as a lesser light in the Elephant 6 collective. Well, this is definitely harder than most twee, and the band more than distinguishes itself as a capable, powerful, creative unit.

I will never get enough of the intro to “Just Once More,” which has to be one of my favorite beginnings of an album ever, with a rapid eighth note guitar strum leading to a simple quarter note riff by bassist Rob Greene and a second, distorted guitar, which then releases Greene to a deliriously hyperactive line. At key times, Hill does short Neil Young guitar impressions, carefully controlling the chaos he is on the verge of unleashing. And the way the band takes the momentum from the refrain of “it goes on and on” and resolves it is masterful. The band chunks its way into “The Things That You Say That You Do,” and as Ealom coos her way through the song, drummer Darren Albert surprises with rapid snare rolls.

Ealom is equal parts sassy and vulnerable on “Baby Six String” and Hill modulates his feedback expertly on the bridge, bringing it back to a melodic but distorted lead part. Speaking of modulation, Ealom does impressive things with her voice on the dark and taunting “This May Hurt A Little,” singing the title phrase less like a warning and more like a delicious blood oath. The band powers its way through the thick, syrupy “Georgie Blue,” with Hill kicking out short distorted riffs, and the little bit of studio verité at the end is fun. Ealom’s multi-tracked vocals lead the way on gnarly “Girl, You Shout!” and Hill continues his showcase with tidal waves of distortion and vicious squalls of lead guitar. “Hey May” is more of the same, with a melody that wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut, but never with this arrangement or delivery.

The weakest song here is “New Song (From Me to You)” and even then, it sports an enjoyable baseball reference. DeeDee Ramone would be proud of the count-in to spiky “Better Luck,” with by-now-fully-expected fireworks from Hill. “Blinktwice” starts out sounding like an attempt by Herman’s Hermits to be the Stooges and that’s not any sort of criticism, but in any event, Ealom eventually makes it her own through her creative delivery. Closing song “Tidy” is as good as the other eight outstanding songs on this album, with a wonderful second half that includes Keith Moon rolls and meaty riffing.

Chris Ziter of the Essex Green was one of the recording engineers; Britt Myers (Aimee Mann, Essex Green, Mates of State) was the other. My CD came with a bonus DVD that I’ve watched once. This is again on the Kindercore label.

The Best Thing About This Album

John Hill’s guitar work overshadows even Tammy Ealom’s excellent songwriting and assured vocals.

Release Date

August, 2003

The Cover Art

Ealom provided the artwork. I like this a lot – psychedelic but soft but also intense.

Dressy Bessy – Little Music (Singles 1997-2002)

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

I most recently saw Dressy Bessy in 2019 at the newish Sleeping Village, which for all its hipster design, has a very poor sounding room. The stage is in what is essentially a (surprisingly) large bunker (probably the size of the first floor of Lincoln Hall; bigger than Schuba’s room; comparable to all of the combined space at the Empty Bottle), and the problem is that if a band does not fill up the room, then the sound just bounces off all the hard surfaces. Dressy Bessy was loud and unfortunately cannot draw to fill that venue, and so the concert was a little disappointing that way. But Tammy Ealom and Co. were fun and full of energy. Much better was their show at the aforementioned Empty Bottle a few years earlier.

What I Think of This Album

An excellent singles collection via the Kindercore label, Little Music succeeds in showing how consistent Dressy Bessy has been over the years. From their first single to the 2002 demo of album track “Tidy,” Dressy Bessy produces fun and fuzzy songs that you can’t help but sing along to.

Annoyingly sequenced out of order, the compilation nonetheless nicely fills in the gaps between the first three studio albums. Even though this collects mostly unrelated songs (three of them come from the same single) spanning five years, the overriding Dressy Bessy aesthetic comes through, and you could be forgiven for mistaking this for a studio album.

There are a lot of endearing moments on this album:  Tammy Ealom provides her own counter-melodious backing vocals on the winking “Lipstick;” the delightful keyboard flourishes on “All the Right Reasons;” the chintzy version of “Tidy;” the interplay between the instruments and Ealom on opener “Live to Tell All;” and the grit in John Hill’s guitar tone on “Said You Would.” I should note that bassist Rob Greene plays highly melodic lines throughout, including a lead role on “2 My Question.” Do not sleep on this little compendium.

The Best Thing About This Album

Plant a big kiss on “Lipstick.”

Release Date

March, 2003

The Cover Art

Pretty cool, actually. My only . . . observation . . . is that it’s difficult to tell what the album title is exactly.

Dressy Bessy – Sound Go Round

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

Sometimes I think I am a bad fan. I honestly forgot that I owned so much Dressy Bessy in general, and this album in particular. I usually reach for the self-titled third album or even the more recent Kingsized when I want to hear some DB, and shame on me, because Sound Go Round is at least the equal of those albums. This thing is a bright shining gem that I could listen to forever.

What I Think of This Album

There is an explicit reference to Rubber Soul (“Tag”) and if you want to decree it so, possibly a sideways one to Neil Young (“I Saw Cinnamon”). And indeed, the album is full of ‘60s pop melodies and fat distorted leads (though hardly as knotty as Young’s), plus an increased reliance on keyboards.

The affecting “Tag” lasts less than a minute and segues seamlessly into “There’s a Girl,” which sparkles with glee (and keyboards). “That’s Why” is a fun, rollicking number with great guitar and bass work, and on which Ealom harnesses her less-than-classically-good voice into something that conveys grit and winsomeness in equal measure. In fact, Ealom is an underrated singer; she can shift from innocent to tough in a half-second and more importantly, she knows when to do it and what each song needs.

There is a very slight psychedelic facet to circular “Oh Mi Amour,” with a Farfisa sound in the background. John Hill chunks away pleasantly on “Buttercups,” but the song is overtaken by swirling keyboards. More straightforward is the aggressive “Maybe Laughter,” balancing Hill’s gritty tone with Ealom’s sweetly sour vocals and some soothing keys on top. The band continues down its candy-colored, sing-song path with bouncy “Big To Do,” which maybe skews towards precious but is enjoyable anyway.

“All These Colors” is an experiment that doesn’t work at all, starting out with a relatively sparse arrangement that doesn’t offer much before shifting into a strange, instrumental second half that seems the product of too many hallucinogens. The keyboards feature again as the band goes sweeping and dense on  “Flower Jargon,” which stretches past the four minute mark. For reasons unknown, catchy “Fare Thee Well” is not the last song, which instead is the relatively epic “Carry-On,” which despite its unnecessary repetitiveness works for me. This is an excellent Kindercore release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“That’s Why”

Release Date

February, 2002

The Cover Art

Ealom once again had a hand in designing the cover art. This looks like a protest sign at a pro-choice rally, which I guess we didn’t hold enough of because it appears that forced-birth is going to be the way this country chooses to go. Well. In any event, if I am being generous, this brings in elements of pop art and abstract art, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t move me. Also, never vote Republican.

Dressy Bessy – Pink Hearts Yellow Moons

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

An accomplished photographer, Tammy Ealom left an early version of the Minders in 1996 and formed Dressy Bessy, named after a toy doll from the ‘70s. Originally a three piece, the band absorbed John Hill, who was also a member of the Apples In Stereo (and Ealom’s partner). Ealom and Hill (now married) have remained the core of the band over seven albums and more than twenty years.

What I Think of This Album

I am tempted to compare this to soda, because it is sugary, sweet, fizzy, and fun, and once it’s over, you want more of it. But I don’t want to suggest it’s all empty calories. Food metaphors aside, this is a great piece of girl-group inspired indie pop, not surprisingly part of the Elephant 6 collective and also on the Kindercore label. Indeed, guitarist John Hill is a member of both Dressy Bessy and the Apples In Stereo, and main Apple Rob Schneider is on hand to help engineer and mix, and Apples drummer Hilarie Sydney lends backing vocals.

Tammy Ealom’s sing-song vocals dominate the album, girded by fat distortion from Hill and Ealom. Individual touches distinguish each song:  bassist Rob Greene excels on “I Found Out;” the melodica on “Just Like Henry” is whimsical; and “Lookaround” gets by on a martial beat. “Little TV” chugs along with brio (the sound effects are pretty great too), and the way Ealom emphasizes “pretty” on “Jenny Come On” makes it sound like she is mocking the subject of the song, the narrator of the song, the song itself, and the entire genre of indie-pop. I love it.

There is a charming innocence to “If You Should Try to Kiss Her” (well-arranged with keyboard and percussion touches). ”Extra-Ordinary” is one of the weaker songs on here, in terms of quality, but also the most surprisingly rockin’. The worst song is definitely “Big Vacation,” but let’s not dwell on that. “Makeup” could easily be an Apples In Stereo tune, and “You Stand Here” has some very welcome jangle.

The Best Thing About This Album

Ealom’s way with a melody.

Release Date

September, 1999

The Cover Art

My cover is muted pink and blue (and it is not faded – the back of the booklet is the same color), so I am not sure why this image comes up as red and blue. The design is by Ealom.

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