Drinking from the fountain of rock's youth -- mainly the para-psychedelia of American pop like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Monkees and Love -- the Essex Green are fresh-faced while putting another wrinkle in an ailing old style. Bands that take after the Beatles instead of Beefheart, despite their increasing prominence, deserve a special award -- or even a cash prize. Not only do they put their hipness, claimed or unclaimed, on the line, but in writing simply good melodies and playing them with more than hollow skill, they add to a legacy. The Essex Green, like brethren the Olivia Tremor Control and the High Llamas, pick the pop aesthetic apart like an old watch, studying how each piece fits in so that they, too, can tick. In the Green's rush to copy, inevitably a cog or two is misaligned, some parts are missing and the whole runs fast and slow. But for a group whose members were born long after their icons' heyday, the Essex Green sound as inspired as they do anxious.
Few '60s British Invasion bands, outside of the Honeycombs (a Joe Meek production), prefigured the use of a girl singer to complement the guys, something the Essex Green have contemporarily engendered. And if there's something akin to a historical re-enactment in the Essex Green's purist trappings, it's still fun watching them strut their stuffiness. The Kinks' pastoral vignettes had the sweet smell of the English countryside. The Essex Green replace those manicured lawns with manufactured ones -- pop Astroturf, if you will -- and suddenly homage is a sport you can win.
Headliners the Apples were one of the first bands to apply the DIY approach -- historically safety-pinned to the punk movement -- to '60s-based pop. Along the way, Robert Schneider became a confident songwriter, transcending the limitations of what was basically a laptop studio. In the past, the Apples have had a hard time coming up with the juice -- though they have it in them -- to power a live show to rival their inventive recordings.