Penelope Houston

The Pale Green Girl

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Pale Green Girl electrifies the adult alternative leanings of Penelope Houston's recording past, supporting her willowy vocals with stripped-down percussion, chiming guitars, and warm organ tones. Houston and collaborator Pat Johnson have designed Pale Green Girl as a take on those arty soundtrack albums that accompanied fish-out-of-water French love stories in the 1960s. (Setup: Porcelain-featured American girl meets perpetually smoking Parisian rogue; they ride his Vespa in slow motion.) Though its songwriting occasionally falters, the creativity and fun of its theme largely keep the album afloat. Opener "Take My Hand" updates the Kinks and the Beatles the Olivia Tremor Control-style, while "Bottom Line"'s spidery guitars and chilly organ give Houston an opportunity to be a bit coy. "I know you think that I love you/But maybe I don't," she sings. "Baby I don't need you/And that's the bottom line." The doting "Aviatrix" is even better. Houston assumes the role of a young Marianne Faithfull, singing in beautiful, yet tragic lullaby tones as plaintive notes drift in an out of focus behind whispering, supporting harmonies. It's all very arty and cool, but wisely never tries to do too much with production, instead letting Houston's detached vocal and the instruments paint the mood. As a result, Pale Green Girl has appeal for everyone from power pop and garage aficionados to precocious indie poppers and fans of the vintage product. Highlights include the aforementioned "Aviatrix," the clear-eyed pop of "Flight 609," and the hazy psychedelic influences wafting through "Walnut" and "Soul Redeemer." (The former also gets points for mentioning nougat). Pale Green Girl ends prettily with a cover of John Cale's "Buffalo Ballet." Houston's voice seems to waver a bit here, but like the album's overarching theme, that slight failing is buoyed by highly evocative atmosphere, here provided by brittle piano runs and filtered backup vocals. It's the soundtrack to the love story in your mind.

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