It’s hard to write pop music these days. Though the Beatles, Kinks and countless others have taught the world that songs can be both catchy and groundbreaking, it seems that pop has once again acquired the stigma of being ‘simple.’ And while The Essex Green’s new album, Cannibal Sea, isn’t likely to revolutionize a generation, it proves that it is possible to write pop songs that are both intelligent and appealing.
In 1997, the three primary members of The Essex Green moved from a quiet town in Vermont to the bustling musical Mecca of New York City. Chris Ziter, Sasha Bell, and Jeff Baron moved initially to gain more exposure for their fledgling musical project called The Essex Green, but soon discovered that it was a move that would shape the band as well. Cannibal Sea, the band’s third full-length, draws heavily upon feelings of confusion and self-doubt that stemmed from, among other things, their newfound home and the environment that came with it.
“It’s about feeling stuck there,” said guitarist Chris Ziter about the new album. “We moved to New York, and not all of us were sure we were going to mix well with it… A lot of the songs on the album are written about the questions ‘is this the right place for me to be,’ and ‘if I leave, am I going to be happy wherever I go?’ I’m sure it’s something that a lot of people think about in their lives–if they’re happy where there’s living.”
If moving seems like a topic that is personal to Chris, then you’d be correct. While pondering a move away from the band to Ohio (a move he would eventually make), his bandmates wrote a touching and bittersweet farewell about his decision, entitled “Sin City.” Its lyrics speak not only to those involved with the band, but also to anyone who’s ever had to make a difficult choice that will likely decide a good part of the rest of their life. Who says pop music can’t touch your heart?
One of the most often-overlooked aspects of The Essex Green’s new album is the significance of the title. According to Chris, “cannibal sea” was a term first used by sailors to describe the dangers of the Carribean Sea. After using it in the song “This Isn’t Farm Life,” the band noticed that it seemed to apply to their situation.
“In a lot of lose ways, [cannibal sea] could apply to a lot of parts of someone’s life,” Chris said. “But for us, it’s about the sea of people and getting lost in an environment where everyone’s sort of out for themselves.”
But if little seems to be made of the band’s subtle commentary, it’s most likely because people seem too busy focusing on of the Essex Green’s highly publicized influences. When the trio formed, they were united by a love of 60’s pop and an appreciation of folk music. While these are an excellent foundation for an indie-pop band, their influences have become somewhat of a bane for the band. Nearly every review of the band’s early work included something which labeled them as merely a reworking of classic approaches to pop music.
“There’s references like that which people just have to latch onto when they’re doing a review,” Chris said. “Does it piss us off? It’s annoying, but I can’t blame them for it. I like to think that we’ve grown into something other than 60s revisionists.”
Cannibal Sea might not be the album that finally frees The Essex Green of comparisons to bands of a bygone era, nor the one that establishes pop music as both intelligent and catchy. The amazing thing is, it doesn’t have to be. For The Essex Green’s fans, it’s yet another fantastic album by a band that isn’t hindered by fears of how they’re perceived.