Second Hand - Death May Be Your Santa Claus [Esoteric Recordings/ Cherry Red - 2017]Here we have a recent CD reissue of one of the more strange, unpredictable & quirky releases to appear from out of the 1970’s progressive/ psychedelic rock scene. Originally released in 1971 the rather wonderfully entitled Death May Be Your Santa Claus, blended together zany like composition, diverse & crazed vocal performances, bizarre composition twists ‘n’ turns, and a more organ and Mellotron focus.
Second Hand where a project from London- who formed in 1965, and their first release was 1968 Reality- which by all accounts this was a fairly standard & predictable collection of rock/ blues & late 60’s psychedelic song craft. It’s this the bands second album, that they are most known & praise for, and it’s easy to see why- as it really has it’s own crazed & distinctive feel. Try & imagine a blend of Zappa / The Mothers Of Invention & Gentle Giant, with a versatile & unpredictable vocalist (think a 70’s version of Mike Patton) onto top. With diversions into circus music, easy listening fare, bent pop styling’s, soundtrack cues, and crazed noise elements.
The original album took in nine tracks, and for this reissue, we get three bonus tracks too. The whole album also gets a 24-bit digital remastering. This reissue appears on Esoteric Recordings- which is the more prog focused sub-label of Cherry Red Records. So as you'd expect you get a nice & classy presentation to the reissue- which comes with glossy sixteen-page inlay booklet, this takes in new article about the album & the band by respected rock journalist Malcome Dome
The albums proceedings open the title track. And to start with we get tense ‘n’ taut grooving blend of organ, tight often cymbal heavy percussion, and the singers vocals coming through a megaphone- sounding half carnival barker & half wavering blues rock singer. Then thirty seconds in we get a sudden & jarring pace shift- as we move into simmering yet slightly unsettling blend rising gospel organ & slurred fairground keyboarding, as the singer drifts into effects ebbed croon, before we move into a twenty seconds of Mr. Bungle like bright ‘n’ manic vibe runs. This wonderfully deranged & unpredictable track comes in at just two & a half minute, and is the perfect introduction to the mad sonic world of this album.
Track number three "Lucifer And The Egg" is the longest track here and nearing eight minutes. It moves from sleazily swinging ‘n’ darting rock soul. Onto epic & climbing church organ runs, through to showy & dramatic blends of keyboard stabs & wavering cymbal slices- that start to get bent by pitch shifting vibes, organ, and gabbled vocals talking ‘about coming into my garden’. Before whizzing back-up multi-layered vocal harmonies full of quirky sneer over a pumping Hammond organ fed rock groove.
The rest of the album is full of more unpredictable, and twists ‘n’ turns. Through the latter half does feel a little more organ/ keyboard based, with the vocalist making more fleeting appearances. This does give the album a slightly lopsided feel, it does mostly work- though at times it does get a little too indulgent, but not enough to ruin the albums ride. As fairly soon after moments of sonic showiness, we move back to more quirky, odd & appealing waters.
It’s fair to say that Death May be Your Santa Claus maybe one of the most unpredictable, wonderfully strange, and quirkily unbalancing records of the 1970’s. So big, big kudos to Esoteric Recordings for putting out this reissue. Sadly this was the last album from the band, who briefly morphed into a project called Chillum, to record one self titled album- this saw the collective become even looser & jam based, and in 1972 the band called it a day for once & for all. So, in conclusion, I whole heartily recommend this reissue to anyone who enjoys unpredictable & risk taking rock music.