For the Swan in the Hallway
Jeff Kelly may be just a little too highfalutin for his own good. On his latest solo effort, the leader of the Seattle indie band Green Pajamas offers three songs inspired by opera, one inspired by a Helen Humphries novel and one inspired by, um, a lock of Emily Bronte’s hair. What keeps the record from becoming a pretentious cultural education class however are Kelly’s love of ’60’s psychedelia and slightly cheesy keyboard sounds and a plaintive voice that occasionally recalls John Lennon, Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock.
When Kelly salutes Debussy’s “Pelleas and Melisande” on the record’s opening track, it’s not with glass-shattering vocals but with jangly guitars and a nice pop hook. The closing track, “A Night At the Opera,” similarly pays homage to opera singer Natalie Dessay with buzzy guitars and bloopy, phasey keyboards. It sounds more like a Cars song with a T-Rex groove than the Queen album with which it shares a title.
Elsewhere, “Ever So Lightly” sounds like an update of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.” The Humphries novel-inspired “Afterimage” has a bit of the lilt of Jon Brion’s work, but with a harder, spookier edge. A recent trip across the pond informs several songs here. Kelly sings about a night in a 300-year-old English pub on “The Swan on the Hill.” He nicely evokes the buzz of a London afternoon on “Oxford Street.” And “The Lock,” with its melancholy piano and strings and echo-y drum figure, is about that aforementioned lock of Emily Bronte’s hair in a Yorkshire museum.
Call it psychedelic pop for the Grey Poupon crowd if you will. For the Swan in the Hallway is worth wading through the sophistication to get to the good stuff.
Hidden Agenda: www.hidden-agenda.com