Back in 2007, the Flaming Lips were still at their peak as they were touring 2006’s At War With The Mystics. So, with a massive backstory written on the CD jacket they put out a Christmas record in very limited quantity under the pseudonym Imagene Peise. The only clue to it being the Lips was a sticker on the plastic wrap that read “Merry Christmas from the Flaming Lips.”
Fast forward a few years and the Lips are doing another limited run of their Christmas record, this time on red translucent vinyl. What is extremely fascinating about Atlas Eets Christmas is just how well the Lips stay in character. Yes they sound like the Flaming Lips, but with the crackles and pops they have added to the record, at times it really does come off as some little known jazz artist that walked straight out of a mid-eastern desert.
So what you get is this instrumental record that is driven by piano and accompanied by synthesizer and sitar. Instead of the usual holiday sentiment poured into your consciousness like a well known Chardonnay you find yourself drinking Port for the first time ever. It’s cigar smoke drenched and kissed with oak in a darkened bar where you sit alone by the window and contemplate the true meaning of that one bright star hovering in the sky.
Or, let’s just say that this isn’t an easily accessible holiday record designed to make you remember roasting chestnuts and singing Rudolph with the family. Nope, it mixes joy with quiet reflections and darker hues of greens and reds that don’t so much shine with a warm glow as threaten to burn. The character of “Imagene” is rumoured to have committed suicide in 1978, and that underlying feel is carried throughout the record.
Personally, I found myself rather mesmerized by Atlas Eets Christmas in much the same way I find some of the darker records in my collection. It isn’t an easy listen, and not one I would pull out while toasting the health of my in-laws as we sit down to our turkey. But, it is a worthy record to pull off the shelf in mid-December after you’ve spent a few hours shopping in an over-crowed mall, that has ‘syruped’ your ears with greetings from Celine and Bolton in some attempt to make you want to buy more stuff from more places. This might be a kind of apocalyptic Christmas record, but sometimes that’s what we need in order to really appreciate what we have.
For all us obsessed music fans who love to dig deeper into the psyche of our favourite bands, documentaries are the gold mine that allow that little peek. Of course, don’t scratch too far beneath the surface or you might rub away some of the sheen.
Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements
How do you tell a story about a band without their music, archival footage or band participation? Color Me Obsessed answers the question by having fans, critics and obsessed music geeks tell the story of the world’s most contrarian band.
Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong
After the debacle that was the Billy Corgan solo record, filming began on If All Goes Wrong. This 2007 film sees Corgan resume the Pumpkins name with only Jimmy Chamberlain coming back in the fold. Surprisingly, the audiences in the film are indifferent towards new material causing Corgan to wonder about artistic expression and commercial success.
Upside Down: The Creation Records Story
One part bands, another part attitude Creation records gets a worthy and shocking documentary. Not only does it feature the story of some Brit-pops best bands, but also how the vision and overwhelming hubris of one man, Alan McGee whose own trials saw the rise and fall of a very influential independent record label.
DIG! (Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre)
Decried as more fiction than documentary by the bands involved, DIG! has absolute Spinal Tap moments with band disagreements and so-called ‘dust ups’ that leave no one unscathed. Two rival bands attempting to rise above obscurity in the midst of rockstar excess without the benefit of having been rockstars first.
The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks
Chronicling the history of the self proclaimed “art-rock” band whose origins go back to the 70’s, director Bradley Beesley films the band over a fifteen year span covering from 1990 until 2005. The evolution of a band from “no talent garage rockers” to “alt-rock pioneers” is both frightening and life affirming.
No one quite did early garage rock like The Sonics. They were a musical mess of fuzzy guitar, earth pounding drums, screaming vocals and lyrics that were dirty and just plain asinine at times. This was the early sixties and while The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do” The Sonics were belting out “she’s gonna make you itch / ‘cause she’s the witch” (from the song “The Witch”) and as the Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper” these guys were blasting out a tune named “Strychnine.” It was a sound that reverberated from the 60’s and had enough impact to influence everyone one from The Stooges to Nirvana. The fact is that they were punk long before anyone even coined the phrase.
That The Sonics are not a household name is more at testament to poor timing than quality of expression. They were loud and crass before it became popular, and when they tried to move in a more commercial direction, that sound changed again and the band wasn’t thrilled about their new path anyway. Their debut, Here Are The Sonics!!!, was released in 1965 and by ’68 they called it a day. However, punk in the 70’s and grunge in the 90’s brought renewed interest in the band. Nirvana and later the White Stripes and Hives hailed them as influences while cover versions of their songs were played by the Flaming Lips, The Fall, L7, The Cramps, LCD Soundsystem and more.
If you are considering giving these guys a try the best place to start is with Here Are The Sonics!!! which provides the best overall example of their sound. On vinyl, you have a few choices, but your best bet is actually the 1998 mono edition released on regular vinyl. Mono being how it was originally recorded, it sounds far better. The great thing is that it is still widely available, NEW, for around the twenty dollar mark. A re-united Sonics has been touring and recently released a new album, This Is The Sonics.