It should come as little surprise to those semi-regular, sometime, and every now-and-again reader of this very breakout album review that I’d be personally elated to give North Carolina-based indie record label heavyweight Merge the spotlight in back-to-back weeks. Over the last couple years in this column, I’ve talked about growing up with an affinity for entire record labels and their rosters in varying degrees. I’ve mentioned how labels like Touch & Go, Dischord, SST, and Sub Pop could do little wrong sonically to my ears. I’ve also acknowledged the labels that challenged and redefined my notion of punk – contextualizing it as an ethos, aesthetic, mindset, and guiding principle and less a sound or sonic touchstone. Labels like Kill Rock Stars, the entire family of Secretly Canadian, and K Records are prime examples. Merge was the label that bridged and continues to bridge the gap in those ideas.
With artists on the Merge roster ranging from Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, and Spoon to The Mountain Goats, Arcade Fire, and Neutral Milk Hotel, you were stretching, flexing, and working out your sonic palette. The Essex Green is the sort of band that I needed time and experience to really begin to appreciate. Their brand of Elephant Six-inspired orchestral pop and psychedelic folk was unique as it was influential. The Burlington, Vermont (by way of Brooklyn) core three-piece of songwriters and multi-instrumentalist consist of Jeff Baron, Sasha Bell, and Chris Ziter. The trio is joined by an impressive lineup of too-long-to-list guest players, and cites a sound “inspired by 1960s–1970s pop and folk in the tradition of bands like The Left Banke and Fairport Convention.” Hardly Electronic is the first new music from the band in 12 years and was very much worth the wait, chock full of contagious harmonies, and varied, complex instrumentation. The record is a total aural delight, perfectly suited for our current surrealist summer.
Hardly Electronic is available Friday, June 29, via Merge Records as a digital download (high quality MP3), and on compact disc and vinyl in a standard black colorway. You can also order the album as part of the label’s exclusive Peak Vinyl series. Peak Vinyl records come in a limited edition colorway (in this case, a red and orange swirl). Most intriguing to the more than casual fan, the download features four extra digital tracks (the same track list as on the CD), and is available only from the label directly and from participating independent record stores.
Recommended for fans of The Olivia Tremor Control, Belle and Sebastian, The Apples in Stereo, Tilly and the Wall, The Ladybug Transistor, or moments of Neutral Milk Hotel.
Jon E. Lynch[email protected]