Put on your Pajjamas
I was in love with Pajjama's "Starch" cassette within its first 10 seconds, a rare and beautiful thing. Skillfully combining chiptune sequencing and live rock/prog playing on guitar/bass/drums/synths, this EP swings harder than any synth-dominant project I've heard in a long time. Lots of folks are doing fine work with chiptune music, but Pajjama's work displays many bonus levels of compositional depth, making nods to influences like Chromelodeon and early YMO while drawing from a wide variety of 70s prog and 80s pop traditions. Magma-esque passages and "Uncle Meat"-era Zappa moments collide with video games and workout VHS tapes. Crazy good.
The live performance aspect of Pajjama really brings this music to life, particularly the jazz and funk-infused playing of drummer Kristian Valbo. I get the impression that all 3 Pajjama members have some background with jazz, as their unique blending of genres includes a lot of syncopation and a very confident sense of humor one often develops with a lot of practice and a lot of gigging. Primary composer Eirik Suhrke alternates between riffs and evocative chord progressions with ease, and he and Bernt Karsten Sannerud layer synth parts with great ears for mixing and balance--there's a lot happening at times, but you can hear every detail no matter how dense the music gets.
For a release that doesn't even make it to 13 minutes in length, I still find myself appreciating different aspects of the writing and arranging with every listen. The "Jean Baptiste" section and the 30-second introduction are my favorites, but the whole piece runs as a seamless suite--ah, and how can I forget those propulsive, insistent drums in "Vedaste!"--best to just listen to the whole thing. Repeatedly.
"Starch" was released in the middle of last year on Orange Milk Records, and the cassette features amazing artwork on a double-sided J-card designed by Keith Rankin (Giant Claw). The "regular" Orange Milk Page seems to indicate this album is sold out, but their StoreEnvy site shows availability? If all else fails, definitely get some Starch in your Pajjjamas via BandCamp.
February brought us the followup Pajjama EP on BandCamp, entitled "Jane Papaya," which is just as thoughtfully written and arranged, but it focuses more on 80s pop/synth idioms and somewhat less on the more aggressive prog moments of the debut. Imagine the transition between Phil Collins' mullet period to his later skullet period, and you'll get the general idea. There's sometimes a bit of a moody 80s fusion vibe, too, ala Tribal Tech and the like, especially in the outro of "Salty Price." Jane Papaya will be released on cassette later this year by Orange Milk Records, and work on a third recording has already begun. Here's the artwork for the upcoming Orange Milk release:
Related recordings: If you're digging Pajjama, you simply must dig into more of Eirik Suhrke's work as a video game composer. Working both under his own name and occasionally as Phlogiston, Suhrke has a real knack for writing simple-but-memorable melodies, perfect for game play. And he's a real connoisseur of video game music history--this is the kind of guy who can pick out the programmatic nuances between music for the SNES and the Sega Genesis in only a few notes. And he applies that knowledge toward new projects with the skill of a sommelier, balancing nostalgic and forward-thinking tones to perfectly compliment games.
You can also find the history of Pajjama in Suhrke's video game music: compare the recordings in Super Crate Box with the updated, Pajjama-licious Super Crate Box Special to hear how live instrumentation spices up already-solid chiptune writing. And the Spelunky score is rich with Pajjama and friends, rocking out game cues mostly under a minute in length.
And while I haven't written much about avant-black metal in a long time, I have to add that Pajjama member Bernt Karsten Sannerud's new album with Formloff, "Spyhorelandet," is probably my favorite weirdo progressive black metal album since early Ved Buens Ende. Great writing, mixing, occasional vocal harmonies, killer guitar playing and arranging, actual audible bass guitar: a real triumph all around. I haven't had much time to listen to this one yet, but I'm sure I'll be spending more time with Formloff, as well as checking out what looks to be an avant-bm supergroup including Sannerud, Self Spiller.
--also published at Killed in Cars