THE ESSEX GREEN at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 22). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Nobody forgets elephant 6. That's the bind bugging Brooklyn pop three-piece the Essex Green these days. Once upon a time - OK, it was in 2000, but that's a lifetime in pop music years - the trio of singer/guitarist Sasha Bell, guitarist Jeff Baron and singer/keyboardist Chris Ziter dropped a well-received self-titled EP of dreamy indie pop on the Elephant 6 label, operated by the hippy-dippy psych-rock clique-cum-collective of the same name.
Since then, the Elephant 6 name has cast a pachyderm-shaped shadow over the Essex Green.
Thing is, as Green giant Chris Ziter laments, taking a break from plundering thrift stores in Utah, their music deserves to stand on its own two feet. Tune in the band's lush new full-length, The Long Goodbye (Merge), and you'll realize Essex Green's particular brand of sparklingly produced, summery 60s- and 70s-inspired tunage has an ethos that's a far cry from the lo-fi hallucinations of true E6ers Olivia Tremor Control et al.
"It's really frustrating, because although we were fans of the music coming out of the collective, and we were excited when they offered to put out our EP, suddenly it's like - boom! - every review makes some mention of Elephant 6.
"I figured that when The Long Goodbye came out reviewers would be like, 'Well, the Elephant 6 situation has passed with this band.' But no! They're still referencing it. And I can't begin to explain how little the Elephant 6 thing was a part of our lives and musical influences.
"In New York we have a similarly comical situation with the Village Voice. Consistently, the only thing they say is that we're Kinks revisionists. The last time we played, they said something like, 'These guys do to the Kinks what Spinal Tap did to Black Sabbath.' Hello? Have you ever listened to anything we've ever recorded? We sound nothing like the Kinks."
It's true. There's nary a Lola to be found on The Long Goodbye. Instead, you'll hear catchy, sweet sing-along melodies woven in between layers of well-arranged instrumentation - from organs to synths to the occasional goofy banjo riff. Over top, Ziter's soothing coo harmonizes with Bell's misty little-girl soprano in a deliciously faux-naive way.
The combination of impeccable production, complex arrangements and a classic pop sensibility evokes folks like Burt Bacharach and the Beach Boys. I envision the band as diapered toddlers raiding the greatest hits from a boomer parent's record stash.
Ziter laughs at the suggestion.
"Our influences stem more from the fact that it's hard to get inspired by a lot of new stuff. It's much easier to please the palate by just pulling out an old 60s record."
As for the disc name's retro flair, the band was charmed by the title of a Raymond Chandler hardboiled dick novel.
"We were originally going to call the record The Quiet American. But the movie came out, so we scrapped it. And while The Long Goodbye might not be as provocative, it's more fitting for the record. There's definitely a darker side to the lyrics. It works to balance the happiness of the music. Otherwise, things might get too cloying or twee."