The Carolers’ Song by Seattle outfit The Green Pajamas is touted as “[Seven songs that] explore the traditional mystique and tarnished mysticism of the Holiday season. . . . A collection of sweet spells and hectic hexes cast amidst some of the most exquisitely narcotic psychedelic pop songs known to humankind.” That’s certainly an ornate way of getting people to listen to this mini album of sorts. Does that description fully describe the music on this release? Sort of, but the fact is most of the tracks here stand strongly on their own musical merits without any need for such verbal gawking.
For the record, this album was originally for release as a CD-R to the Green Pajamas’ fan club in 2000. Parasol picked up on the official release option, but waited until last year to release it themselves. Of the songs here, the closing “Night Boat to Gondal” was featured on Parasol’s Sweet 16, Volume 3. Essentially, The Carolers’ Song has been around the block before, but chances are a lot of people have not heard this disc.
Composed of guitarists/vocalists Jeff Kelly and Laura Weller, drummer Karl Wilhelm, keyboardist and vocalist Eric Lichter, and bassist and vocalist Joe Ross, The Green Pajamas have been issuing their own blend of psychedelically tinged pop for a number of years now. A cursory look at the photos of the band on the inside sleeve of the disc gives the impression that this band would probably sound like any local, faceless talent at the nearby Border’s. Of course, one listen to the music on the album will completely strip that notion away.
The first song, which happens to be the title track, does indeed sound Christmasy with its Brian Wilsonesque sleigh bells and folk-tinged melody. The acoustic guitars provide a quaint framework that is suddenly wiped clean by the electric guitars and Joe Ross’ bass. Not to say that it’s bombastic. But it’s like shifting gears from Peter, Paul, and Mary to perhaps a Crosby, Stills, and Nash, or a Jefferson Airplane, or a Moody Blues.
The comparison to the Moodies is probably the strongest. When the second track, “She Smiles Sweetly”, kicks in, everything seems to become a wash fueled by Carnaby Street and Haight-Ashbury. Though the chunky rhythms and fuzzed guitars seem to allude a bit more towards the Small Faces side of the fence (something like “Itchycoo Park” perhaps), there seems to be a slight aftertaste of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour or To Our Children’s Children’s Children lurking about, albeit minus the symphonic nature of those works. But don’t let that drive you away; one does not have to be a fan of any of the aforementioned artists to enjoy what is going on here.
Granted, the trippy “Orchid Sunshine” with lines like “Just wanna slip behind the curtain / One Golden moment to achieve / 10,000 rays of orchid sunshine” feels like it’s steeped in 1967 LSD mania, the music itself, though seemingly based in a sort of Magical Mystery Tour vibe, doesn’t sound too far off from the recent sounds of Mercury Rev. And those lyrics aren’t any stranger than, say, any of the words found on Spiritualized’s Lazer Guided Melodies. It’s certainly a transfixing mix of the old and new (or perhaps the not so new pretending to be “new”).
But the fact of the matter is the psychedelic tinges to which The Green Pajamas so gleefully embrace is indeed their top strength. Take a song like “Felicity Cross”, for example. It easily echoes some of the most catchy and unnerving aspects of psychedelic rock. Think of somewhat spooky songs like The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said”, or perhaps The Troggs’ haunting “Cousin Jane” and then combine the two. Throw in a dash of the solitary scary aspects of some of Nico’s work (such as The Marble Index or The End), and you begin to get a picture of just how these guys work. Seriously, lines like “You tell me now she might be waiting on our bed / You’ll never get to Heaven / You’ll never get to Heaven / Until you get those thoughts from your head” sung in the spooky way that it is here, both calm and at the same time almost paranoid, is more than a little addictively unsettling.
The weak track here is the traditional, instrumental “Abbots Bromley”. It’s not that it’s bad or poorly played or anything like that, it’s just that the tune doesn’t seem to really fit with the other six songs here. Listening to it seems to conjure up images of Renaissance Faires and things of that ilk. Could be that harpsichord’s fault, or perhaps it’s something else, but the whole thing has this feel of knights and maidens in disrress underneath all the notes.
The somber “Hush Your Violence” couples the whole “I Am the Walrus” / “Isn’t It a Pity” pulsing rhythm successfully, while the closing “Night Boat to Gondal” returns to the feel of the Moody Blues once again. In all, the seven tracks of The Carolers’ Song seem to work a strange spell of uneasiness that is also oddly attractive. It would be safe to say that The Green Pajamas are in a unique class, effectively taking some of the more unused psychedelic pop flourishes and reclaiming them as their own. At any rate, it sure beats hearing another band try to do their impression of “Day Tripper” and falling flat on their faces.