Seattle’s The Green Pajamas should be near the top of any Most Underrated Band in America list. Since the late ’80s they’ve been releasing intelligent, superbly crafted albums, yet their closest brush with fame was when Material Issue had a hit with their song “Kim the Waitress”. And even that didn’t get them far, as even at the time of that song’s popularity its authorship wasn’t widely indicated. Still, the Terrastock scene and the general explosion of “indie-rock” fans’ focus in all sorts of directions seem to be giving the band more publicity, a phenomenon that might be late coming but should be applauded nonetheless.
In a Glass Darkly, The Green Pajamas’ latest release, is a five-song EP with a sound that’s quite different from their most recent few albums. Those releases, swirling works of psychedelic pop/rock, contained plenty of accessible pop hooks and rock energy. Neither of those elements are too present here, though In a Glass Darkly is as satisfying in its own way. Originally planned as a release from lead singer Jeff Kelly’s side project Goblin Market, the EP contains five songs with an old-fashioned, Gothic feel, all inspired by the short stories of J.S. Le Fanu.
Each song on In a Glass Darkly tells a story, and each deals with ancient themes of love, death, and betrayal. Each also includes familiar images and figures, from candles and mansions to ghosts and shadowy figures lurking in the dark. Musically, the band crafts a spooky, melancholy mood, using guitars, keyboards and some more old-time-sounding instruments, which both holds the songs together as a work and complements the lyrical depictions of mystery and sadness. “Uncle Silas”, the loping first track, should immediately remind Green Pajamas fans that the band once recorded a fine cover of Leonard Cohen’s “The Story of Isaac”. Cohen is definitely a touchpoint at times here, but so are various strains of traditional European folk music and more contemporary melodic rock.
In a Glass Darkly tells familiar stories with freshness and creative spark. Though poking into darker material than usual, The Green Pajamas bring their usual sense for instrumentation, melody and lyrics and use them fabulously. This EP might not be as rock-oriented as your typical Green Pajamas release, but it’s yet one more reminder of how criminally underheard they are.