BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Seattle’s Green Pajamas have long been one of the most consistently good acts in the psych rock underground, with three decades’ worth of albums, EPs, side projects and ephemera that’s always at least interesting, and often brilliant. But there’s a special place in the band’s catalog for the “Northern Gothic” series. Starting with 2002’s eponymous album and continuing through 2007’s Box of Secrets: Northern Gothic Season 2, the records put a (slightly) bigger emphasis on, yes, the gothic side of the group’s personality. Of course, for leader Jeff Kelly, “gothic” is not about black eyeliner, vampires and depression, but the more classical definition, as found in literature, architecture and art. In practical terms, that means the only thing his band’s version of gothic shares with the Cure and Bauhaus is a penchant for minor chords.
In that respect, Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is, in many ways, a prototypical Green Pajamas album – full of gently acidic melodies, soulfully plainspoken singing and lyrics haunted by ghosts real and imagined. But, as with all “Northern Gothic” branded releases, there’s something special at work here. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is – more lyrical focus? Stronger melodies? More precise instrumental work? Whatever the reason, the band is on fire here. “Lisa Lou” and “The Rosebergs” continue the PJs’ tradition of sharp pop songs, while “The Shepard Well” and “Red Bird” does the same for folk rock. “Ana (All the Way Down),” “Monica Talks to Angels” and “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down” feature some of the group’s toughest rock songs ever, with catchy tunes enhanced by steely guitar fills. The Green Pajamas rarely miss anyway, but Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is undeniably a new set of PJs classics.
DOWNLOAD: “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down,” “Monica Talks to Angels,” “Ana (All the Way Down)”