The Green Pajamas, formerly of Seattle, have moved to England. No, this is not true. By the sound of its latest, Poison in the Russian Room, though, it does seem as if it has spent a chunk of time there. Of course, there is nary a psychedelic-rock band who hasn’t been influenced by the music flown over the ocean, but the Green Pajamas have ingested the British tradition, and now it is helping their cells to multiply and become stronger. Instead of relying on the American tradition, which seems to live in the grit of cities, the band has embraced the psychedelic sounds that originally arrived in the form of the folk song, awash with images of meadows and larks.
That’s not to say the band has left its Pacific Northwest sound behind. If anything, it is strengthened in comparison: Clean chords, determined vocals and a pathological respect to the pop song still prevail. But there are also elements of Pink Floyd, specifically the prettier moments of The Wall and The Final Cut. More importantly and wonderfully evoked is the genius of Robert Wyatt. It’s his solo career that gets referenced here, where beauty and oddity come together. There are languid, flowing and ultimately peaceful moments on Poison in the Russian Room that the Green Pajamas have visited before but never so expertly captured. Like Wyatt, they use not only the history of its own beloved rock music but delve into jazzy interludes laced with cultures from around the world. The Green Pajamas are more than imitators, and its move beyond the usual is a growth some bands never achieve.
The band has said this is a conceptual record divided into two separate pieces. It can be heard this way, but the record is no less-effective as a whole. Its meanderings from style to style are present throughout and partially because of the attention to accurately convey mood, the end result is something that is larger than a split into two. It’s a journey, the rare kind in music. Artists attempt it often, but it is difficult to maintain momentum through a dozen or so songs. Poison in the Russian Room is a slow burn of beauty and the kind of record that lures and compels the listener to hear one more song, and then the next, until it is over.
What is interesting is how the Green Pajamas took its great strength—cool, weird rock songs—and juxtaposed it with tunes that sound like mournful prayers. This is a record that would have sold a million copies in the 1970s. It’s got that spooky, stoned vibe running through it that made artists like Steely Dan and Gerry Rafferty household names. Poison in the Russian Room is a record that opens up with each successive listen. At first, it just sounds damn good. Then, it’s haunting and sad. Aggression shows up, but it’s parlayed into a drop of glorious depression. Guitars kick back in, and it’s that exhilarating teenage thrill of loving music simpy for the way it makes you feel.
All of this and it manages to be a cohesive work of art. The Green Pajamas, one of the great underground bands in America, have always made its fans very happy. Poison in the Russian Room is one that breaks out of the pack. It’s a record not only for the lovers of pop psychedelia or awesome garage rock or adherents to great guitar work. It’s for those who love music or for anyone who revels in the artistry that goes into making superior sounds.