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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
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The Essex Green
Cannibal Sea

Too varied and smart to be merely retro, and with more than enough substance beneath its smoothness, Cannibal Sea, by the Essex Green, is a superlative example of left-field pop with folk roots. The third album from this Brooklyn-based trio, with a large number of contributing musicians, Cannibal Sea ought, in an ideal world, to put the Essex Green firmly on the map.

Centered on the voices of Jeff Baron, Sasha Bell and Christopher Ziter, the group's sound incorporates chugging guitars, swaths of vintage organ and great, stomping grooves, but most strongly evokes the breeziness and burnished shine of '60s folk-pop. Unafraid to pile on the layers when called for, they have come up with a very bold-sounding record, but one with a sense of wistfulness, even vulnerability, at its heart. With collaborative sound emphasized over band identification and the group-as-gang idea sidestepped in favor of a less constricting identity, the album reveals a broad stylistic span and a keen sense of character, with lots of idiosyncratic charm.

Cannibal Sea is startlingly immediate. The jaunty, descending melody and solid rhythm of "This Isn't Farm Life" kick things off, swiftly followed by the gorgeous vocal harmonies and taut-but-glossy riffing of "Don't Know Why (You Stay)." Rich and carefully crafted, the overall sound has just enough going on to smooth off the edges while retaining a measure of stridency to sharpen the sweetness. Of the three voices, Sasha Bell's stands out most vividly, with its contrasting combination of worldly appeal and almost naive wonder. This is particularly evident on the sweeping, pure pop of "Snakes in the Grass" and the gloriously low-key "Sin City," as affecting in its shy beauty as the more overtly arranged tracks heard elsewhere. The slick arrangements of "Rue De Lis" and "Penny & Jack," the Stereolab-style linear keyboard-led groove and harmony vocals of "Cardinal Points," and the sparsely arranged intimacy of "Rabbit" all show off the band's versatility.

by Tom Ridge

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