In 1966, the Beatles' Revolver and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds changed the way we looked at sound and melody. We realized that with a little imagination -- drug-induced or otherwise -- and some unusual instrumentation, pop could indeed be art. Today, though, "pop" refers largely to teenybopper music and the likes of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Snyc. Yet here and there exist groups that play original music in the garage-band tradition of the '60s. With their highly influenced yet unique retro sounds, the Essex Green and Kincaid are among those ever so quietly advancing on the pop throne.
On Kincaid Plays Super Hawaii, the band crafts melodies that are nearly as stunning as those heard on Pet Sounds, if not more melancholic. The disc opens with the outstanding "Solid, Jackson[224K aiff]," which proclaims "I'll grow up/When I've got nothing else to do." But there's too much hesitation in the tone for it to be coming from someone who is unscathed. The imagery, both lyrical and sonic, has classic tendencies: sunsets and waves. But it often heads down darker paths, as evidenced in sad lines such as "My parachute is broken/Wrapped around my neck." Yet the band never lingers on a solemn moment for too long; after some fleeting gloom, it's back to bubblegum ooh woo woo choruses and Dick Dale surf riffs. The contrast of somber lyrics undercut by jangly beats is smoothed over by an arsenal of cool instruments as Kincaid throws in an organ or cello -- anything to keep the beach bonfire bright and interesting. Though the arrangements are complex throughout, the sound is deceptively simple, almost easy.
On the more experimental end of the pop spectrum is the Essex Green's mischievous and trippy Everything Is Green. A slightly scary elf pictured inside the liner notes serves as host: He's playing an accordion in a garden of suspicious-looking green plants, and his eyes resemble Willy Wonka's just as he's taking the chocolate factory visitors through that twisted tunnel. It's an apt representation of the music found here. The first track, "Primrose [289K aiff]," sounds as though it's creeping up behind you -- a roving marriage of "A Day in the Life" and "White Rabbit." With its lovely flute solo and subtle harmonizing, "Mrs. Bean [264K aiff]" has the infectious play-it-again quality that is pop's hallmark. Each Green member takes a stab at vocals, which only enhances the diverse, multi-directional sound-collage quality of this recording. The result is that, at times, you don't know whether you're running from goblins or floating on clouds.
Kincaid and the Essex Green prove that guitar pop can still display vitality and intelligence. Maybe someone will take notice. Wouldn't that be nice?