The heyday of lightly psychedelic indie-pop ended about five years ago, soon after bands like The Apples In Stereo and The Ladybug Transistor perfected the method of turning old records into meaningful fashion statements. At the moment, there isn't really any one sound or movement dominating the indie scene—though the art-school power-pop spreading across Canada comes close—and the general rootlessness has led some to fumble for new musical hybrids. Ladybug Transistor-affiliated pop group The Essex Green takes some weird chances on its third album, Cannibal Sea, and while some are about as appealing as a peanut-butter-and-sardine sandwich, others bend genres into striking new shapes.
The Essex Green should be more careful with songs like the disjointed "Elsinore" and the overly busy "Snakes In The Grass," which slam together The Beatles, Blondie, and The B-52's in ways so reckless that listeners could damage their ears. But the band survives the mad-scientist mutation of country music and pastoral pop on "Slope Song," and the clash of Stereolab and Love Tractor on "Cardinal Points" (which also includes a surprisingly scorching Southern-rock guitar solo). And The Essex Green does even better with the steady "Don't Know Why (You Stay)," a lo-fi new-wave track that waits patiently to make little melodic leaps. In the end, it's probably significant that Cannibal Sea's best song is its first, "This Isn't Farm Life," a peppy, fruggy, frosted pop-cake that drifts away at the halfway point and then comes back strong, draped in pretty strings.