Picture the scene, the place Haight Ashbury, San Fransisco, the time, end of the summer, 1967. Ray Davies on a rare day off from peddling The Kinks and their specific brand of quintessentially English pop around the States strolls casually into the 'Swinging Hep Cat bar and vegetarian grill', just two blocks up Baker from Buena Vista Park. The place is heavy with (ahem) fragrant smoke. As Ray makes his way through the thick fug of west coast sentimentality, past a table of black polo neck and beret clad Kerouac throwback beatnik wannabes, towards the bar it becomes apparent that he 'ain't from round here' as they say in certain parts of the nation. His fitted Carnaby Street suit, sharp lines, slick, neat hair and subtle aftershave make him stand out like a beacon amongst the kaftan wearing, patchouli scented flower children. Nevertheless he strides forth undeterred. As his senses adjust to the atmosphere he notices the music, a semi funk pop folk rock sound coming from the small stage at the end of the bar. Fronted by soon to be legendary Arthur Lee, Love are the hottest ticket on the Frisco underground scene, and Ray Davies has just had an epiphany. Clean cut pop was no longer the thing here, it was the summer of love and it needed a soundtrack.
All over the city, and soon enough all over the nation the swirling hiatus of psychedelia was taking hold. This was something new.
Now fast forward thirty or so years and hop across the union to Brooklyn on the east coast. With the benefit of hindsight, the opportunity to absorb both of these popular cultures and the ability to merge two quite distinct, yet surprisingly similar genres into an almost unique sound we find The Essex Green. A central three piece, who all re-located from Vermont, and call on the skills of their contempories as and when required, The Essex Green are reassuringly familiar, yet refreshingly unique as they hawk their brand of semi straight laced, semi psychedelic pop.
They have been described elsewhere as delivering 'the most perfect Sunday afternoon record..', and to be honest I find that description difficult to refute. The lazy, luscious harmonies, the saccharine tinged vocals, the gentle, ebbing and flowing acoustic/electric mix which never comes close to conflict, the warm, embracing slabs of Hammond vibrato. The Essex Green seem to have taken all that is good about a handful of influences and made the perfect pop record.
Although it is easy to spot influences, it's somewhat more difficult to impart references. There is the obvious British pop Vs. United States psychedelia sparring, the definite hippy against the mod rebellion; but then there are more subtle strains of country, pop and folk. Current day comparisons may be The Concretes, who themselves have crafted a unique brand of Scando-Pop.
Opener 'Primrose' is a steady, melodic, almost hypnotic pop standard that gradually unravels into chaotic Hammond mayhem, it really sets the tone for the whole of the album. Followed closely by the Pseudo Scando-pop of 'The Playground' with neatly segues into and out of a lusciously seductive middle eight from it's regular upbeat incarnation. Infact, the fast/slow/fast/slow element is prevalent throughout the album, cropping up on a number of tracks; most notably perhaps on 'Tinker (She Heard the News)', where the psyche-mod pop strutting settles and fades only to be dragged back from the edge over and over by a thrilling guitar versus Hammond workout.
Perhaps the finest moment of the record is the title track, 'Everything is Green'. It might sound a bit soft, and indeed insulting to describe a song as 'lovely', but that is exactly what this is. It's a song for long lazy mornings spent in bed, the sun streaming through the curtains, and freshly brewed coffee slowly easing you back to life. It never reaches the punchy, heady, effervescent heights of some of the other songs contained herein, but it sways and soothes, and eases a certain kind of happiness into you. That is good, it is not bad.
'Sixties', and 'Saturday' both keep the tone what can only be described as 'mellow', soft, acoustic, country folk rock numbers that reinforce the sentiments eschewed by the title track.
'Big Green Tree' steps up the tempo once again, before the soothing 'Carballo' brings the record to a stunningly simple ending. It leaves with a satisfied feeling, rather like a nice meal, or good, but gentle sex. Lazy, soft and slow sex, whilst laid in bed, bathed in hazy sunshine, on a languorous Sunday morning.
The bottom line is however this, when I first listened through this record I made a few notes, then on second and third listenings I added to these notes. When I listened to The Essex Green today I just wrote, in big bold letters, right across all my previous notes, the legend...'Laid Back'.
And I think that sums it up perfectly.