Review: Psych-Out Christmas

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LP. Cleopatra Records

Let’s be honest. Christmas is definitely the time of year that you feel would benefit from powerful psychedelics, to help you cope with the shopping, the crowds, the family time and the constant barrage of godawful pretentious perfume commercials on TV. But in the absence of potent hallucinogens to help you float above it all, the next best thing is surely a spot of psychedelic music, rendering that shocking tripe that pumps out of every supermarket sound system at least bearable.

So Psych-Out Christmas is a welcome addition to the festive musical market, offering up 17 mostly impressive covers – with a smattering of originals tracks – that are ideal for your alternative Christmas celebration.

The album opens with a tribute to 60s horror novelty records from Len Maxwell – Christmas Monster Party has a Boris Karloff soundalike welcoming us to his castle to party down and kiss under the mistlethumb. The music proper kicks off with Elephant Stone’s sitar heavy cover of the Beatles Christmas Time (Is Here Again), a suitably spacey and lively collision of the Fab Four’s various career points.

It’s Christmas Day sees The Cosmonauts channelling The Jesus and Mary Chain in a pleasingly droning number, while Silent Night by Quintron and Miss Pussycat is a fantastic, funky instrumental, heavy on the organ and rhythmic groove beat that makes it sound like a renegade from the Ultra Lounge album series. The band are back later with Jingle Bell Rock, which is rather more eccentric, coming across like the sort of thing you might have once heard from a guy playing the organ at some terrible variety show. It’s compulsively, deliberately horrible.

Jul Song is an original number from Dark Horses, and rather less tripped out, playing more as a moody, downbeat dream pop ballad that ought to be a future festive favourite in a civilised world. Sleepy Sun’s What Child Is This sees the traditional carol mutated, spaced out and turned into a heavy psych number, while The Vacant Lots turn Suicide’s No More Christmas Blues into throbbing, bouncing number that will get the foot tapping and the mind imagining liquid lights a go-go.

The Zombies’ Time of the Season might not actually be a Christmas song, but then, it doesn’t actually specify which season it’s referring to … the original number is pretty flawless and Sons of Hippies don’t quite better it in their excellent cover, which is heavier and more phased, with guitar distortion replacing the original’s organ track. It’s a moodily trippy piece that is one of the songs on the album best suited for psychedelic dance parties.

iggy-pop-photo-jean-paul-goudeI was unaware that The Fuzztones were still going until I heard this album, and knowing that they are is rather pleasing. A retro band when they started out in the 1980s, they now seem even more out of time and even more of the now. Santa Claus is a typical Fuzztones number, heavily channelling bands like The Sonics with a dirty garage psych sound.

Eli Cook’s Christmas Tears feels oddly out of place here, being a mostly straight-ahead blues number. Admittedly, half the original 60s psych bands were essentially blues bands with long guitar solos, but this is a little too traditional to work here. It’s not that it’s a bad track as such – it’s just not psychedelia by any stretch of the imagination.

Also eschewing the psych elements – but rather more agreeably – is The Candy Stores version of Frosty the Snowman, which is the best Phil Spector Christmas song that Phil Spector never recorded. A fantastic pastiche, I can forgive the pure pop leanings of this because it’s just so good.

More experimental is The Movement’s’ Little Drummer Boy, which is notably for a lack of drums, turning the traditional track into a swirling, ethereal mass of keyboards and guitars that is eerie stuff – the soundtrack of a bad trip, perhaps. Psychic Ills grind out a pumping, rocking, keyboard-led and down ‘n’ dirty garage psych version of Run Rudolph Run that is a guaranteed dance floor filler. Admittedly, this is a hard song to go wrong with, but this version is pretty damn cool.

Dead Meadows’ Mele Kalikimaka is possibly the most eccentric number here, a slow, industrial plodder that is weirdly discordant. It definitely has the feel of a song recorded under the influence of a powerful sedative. Much livelier is He 5’s Jingle Bells, which mixes in other Christmas favourites in a classically 1960s guitar instrumental number. This is classic guitar pop, completely with impressive psychedelic freak out in the middle.

The album closes with it’s biggest name contributor, Iggy Pop, performing White Christmas (here described as the Guitar Stooge Version). This is more restrained that you might expect – more fuzztone guitar and gentle tickling that full out rocking, with Iggy crooning as best as you could expect. This is a song that’s been murdered by a lot of people, and Iggy’s version is better than most reconstructions. It’s a good number to end on.

You might recoil at the very thought of Christmas music, and if that’s the case, this might not change you mind. But if you have a love of Sixties rock ‘n’ roll and figure that if you have to hear Christmas song then at least they should sound good, then this oddball collection might be just the stocking filler you’ve been looking for.

DAVID FLINT

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