The Green Pajamas: 21st Century Seance

The Pajamas’ main singer and songwriter is Jeff Kelly, who—true to the album’s title—seems haunted by a few things.

THE GREEN PAJAMAS: 21st CENTURY SEANCE (Hidden Agenda)

It amazes me to keep encountering unfamiliar groups who have already released numerous albums. Seattle’s the Green Pajamas have been around for two decades, but they’ve apparently suffered the restrictive fate of being a “critic’s band,” continuously raved about in the ’zines, but generally unknown to the public. Will 21st Century Séance, their latest effort, change that? Hard to say.

TGP don’t exactly sound like any other specific band, and if I thought it would be useful to more than about seven people, I might say something like “a few dollops of Frogs and the Nourallah Brothers with a pinch of Kinks and one or two U2 croutons.” Basically, this is a subtly psychedelic band whose members like fuzzy chords and a farfisa organ here and there. They blend a kind of sincere, melancholy romanticism with a little bit of whimsy, and they lead with their literate, contemplative selves more than their purely physical selves. Does that help at all?

The Pajamas’ main singer and songwriter is Jeff Kelly, who—true to the album’s title—seems haunted by a few things. “It is an album about childhood, but also about getting older, growing up, and not being able to go back,” Kelly writes in the album’s press release. The music supports this. On the short “Claire,” the singer tells us, “I wish I were 12 years old, just like Claire”—and you even hear childlike voices singing along with him. The moody tune “The Black Guitar” features Kelly going from a low octave to a higher one, with stirringly simple chords and evocative lyrics: “Her skin smells like summer/Like youth gone by/Her lips taste like sadness/I feel I might start to cry.” As one given to bouts of similar nostalgic yearning, I was quite touched by such songs.

Some of the music is fairly peppy indie rock that you can enjoy casually, though. “Chip Chop” is a brisk little rocker that repeats a simple musical sequence enough times that it positively sticks in your mind—and the arrangement finds the instruments stopping periodically and just letting the vocals carry you forward. “Pale as the Dead” sounds like a tune from the late ’60s except for the modern production; it serves up both organ and psychedelic guitar in a fetching manner. The stirring harmonies and elegant arrangement of “Alibi” would sound great on any college radio station, and “Gazelle” manages to convey a little of U2’s confidence and musical grandiosity—and does so convincingly. “God has touched her body with a cruel beauty/If this creature has a name, it would be a gazelle/In the October sun, red and fleeting,” sings Kelly. Striking stuff, and it’s even more so on subsequent listens.

The Green Pajamas aren’t flashy, but they’re good enough to warrant more than just the “college rock” tag. Any group drawing on a compelling aesthetic of being spooked by themes of love and loss deserves a ghost of a chance of reaching an appreciative audience.

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