Monday, December 12, 2011

What's Up With the Green Monkey?: Featuring The Green Pajamas, and Sigourney Reverb

About a year or two back, I became enamored with a defunct Seattle indy label called Green Monkey Records.   Issuing a string of cassettes, then vinyl, then CD's in the mid-80's to early '90's, Green Monkey occupied a rare space between the death of the new wave scene and the birth of grunge in Seattle musical history.  And what a label they were!  With a hearty sense of humor and a 6 foot tongue planted firmly in their over-sized cheek, Green Monkey released seemingly incongruent, occasionally random singles and albums from a circus full of performers.   An oxymoron wrapped up in a mad genius of creativity, Green Monkey found some incredibly rare ground by releasing bands that could only be defined as quirk rock, yet were great musicians and took their music very seriously.  Even as they laughed.

Bands like The Icons, The Green Pajamas, The Life, and The Queen Anne's jumped off the retrospective compilation CD that found it's way to my desk.  I became obsessed, scouring eBay for any original releases I could find.  Not every one followed up on the promise hinted at by the cuts on the compilation, but many exceeded it.  A very cool label that did things their own way, completely independent and completely mad.

Imagine my bursting heart of joy then when Tom Dyer, the Wizard of Oz-Monkey wrote to tell me the label was reforming, reissuing some of it's back catalog and, yes, releasing fresh new Green Monkey music.  Had time passed Green Monkey by?  Would they still sound as ironically fresh today as 20+ years ago?  Who could tell.  But I waited, and finally, Green Monkey's first few new releases started crawling through my doors.

The Green Pajamas - The Complete Book of Hours

I've reviewed the Green Pajamas before and their EP, the heartbreaking Red, Red Rose.  I've written about Jeff Kelly before and his solo album, Ash Wednesday.  I kind of knew what to expect here; perfectly constructed post-Beatles pop.  But still, I'd never heard the Green Monkey's 1986 first full album, Book of Hours before.  Here expanded with the inclusion of numerous tracks that appeared on various incarnations of the album as it was released and re-released by record labels around the world, Green Monkey has compiled the "Complete" Book of Hours and set it loose upon an unsuspecting population.  And it's everything I'd hoped it would be.  Definite retro-Beatles hooks mixed with some wry post-Paisley Underground psychedelia, all wrapped up in sweet pastry of unmitigated quirk.   What caught me by surprise was some of the tougher, garage-y aspects of the band, like the charging "Paula", the rough and tumble, garage funk, "Big Surprise" and the spartan, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers raunch of "Higher than I've Been."

What I did expect was the smooth as fresh ice psych pop perfection of "The First Rains of September,"  the grand orchestrated Beatlesmania of "Under the Observatory," the near-whimsical beauty of "The Night Miss Sundby Died", and the is a slice of timeless pop perfection that is "Ten Thousand Words."  If you're a fan of slightly offbeat, psych pop, you've found a new (old) friend here.


The Green Pajamas - Green Pajama Country

So, after the mournful Red, Red Rose and the release of the retro-looking The Complete Book of Hours, what do the Green Pajamas do for their first new release in 2011?   Another paisley-painted pop dalliance?   A Lennon and McCartney-flavored slice of life disc?  Nope, Jeff Kelly and the crew don 10-gallon cowboy hats, rally up the covered wagons and head out to the wild frontier with Green Pajama Country.  And country it is, full on old-school Hank Williams/Johnny Cash flavored country with twang and strumming and nary a "new country" anthem in sight.  And, probably not to surprisingly, the crew manage to pull it off without it sounding like a gimmick or a fad or a jump onto any imaginary bandwagon.

"Pass Me Another Whiskey" swings with a darkened authentic country tone while still maintaining that classic Green Pajamas vibe.  Sure, it's country but it could just as easily have appeared on any other Green Pajamas album, and I mean that in a good way.  A jangle to the guitar, some beautiful vocals and memorable hooks.  Yep, that the Green Pajamas.  But that all changes immediately with the country guitar twang of "You Had a Way About You."   Now we're full-on into Green Pajama country a place where languid summer days pass while you're passing the time chewing on a piece of grass, settling into the shade of a lone oak tree, and strumming that beat up six-string.  "Honky Tone Girls" keeps the vibe alive with some down home harmonica and footstomping beating going on.  "Last Night was Like the End of the World," alternates again towards more familiar Green PJ's territory but still with a firm western flavor.   And it all works.  I'm not the biggest fan of country or twang, but this all works as a somehow logical next Green PJ's album.  The melodies, the hooks, the pop smarts, it's all still there, covered with a layer of trail dust, a broken heart and a cowboy longing for a warm body and a drink.  Fun stuff.


Sigourney Reverb - Bees in Your Bed

Quirk rock.  Did I say quirk rock?  Yep, I said it.  Did I also mention that I really can't stand most quirk rock?  It just seems to clever for it's own good, to self-conscious in trying to be different.  Too willing to sacrifice good music for unnecessary time changes, strange instrumentation, and random bizarreness.  Sure, it may be created in the spirit of experimental imagination, but that doesn't mean I want to listen to it.

So imagine my surprise when I not only found myself listening to Sigourney Reverb's album, but digging it.  I don't mean just digging it, but really digging it.  Yeah, it's quirk rock, there's no doubt there, but it's amped up and pumped up with a healthy X-like sense of punk urgency and Pixies aggression.  Its doesn't just quirk, it rocks.  It punks.  It actually frightens just a little.  And that's good.

The one-sheet with the CD describes the album as 14 songs, 12 of which have hooks.  Opener "Cabin of Hour Dreams" is one of the non-hook ones, a cacophony of noise and yodeling and stuttering guitars and a garbage disposal beat.  Didn't bring me in but luckily "Who's Yer Muse?" came only 1:44 later and introduced me to the beauty of the band.  This is punk, and with the male-female alternating vocals, I can't help think about X.  It charges, it barely contains itself.  It speeds off to somewhere only they know where, but it does it well, with fun and passion.  And a hook.  Great stuff.  From then on, (once I grasped what the album was about) it's a winner all the way through.

--Racer





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