The first two words that spring immediately to mind upon hearing ‘Run Thick In The Night’, the fifth album from US Christmas are ‘expansive’ and ‘psychedelic’. Now, a lazier person than myself may well take those words and, in conjunction with their recent appearance on a Hawkwind tribute record, put two and two together, come up with five and label US Christmas as a ‘Space Rock’ band……and, in a sense, they’d be right. However, the ‘space’ that the sounds made by US Christmas evokes is not the ‘space’ of Hawkwind – cosmic beings and silver machines – but, instead, it is the sense of space evoked by those poets of the prairie, Across Tundras, or the mystics of the mesa, Journey to Ixtlan – that of the vast, wide-open space of nature in its full majesty.
The band themselves claim that ‘the mountains and people of North Carolina are a primary influence’ upon their sound, and if one pays attention to the ‘Run Thick In The Night’ as a whole, that much is certainly clear. The space evoked is obviously a rural one, although not pastoral, as the US Christmas sound is replete with thorny riffs that catch at the feet like tangled underbrush, and parched areas of cracked, arid land that dance with swirling dust-storms of swooshing, bubbling synth and guitar effects. That’s not to say, of course, that there isn’t beauty in this craggy wilderness, far from it, but it is the kind of beauty one sees in the stag and the crashing, foaming water of the rapids – an untamed, wild beauty.
‘In The Night’ is first out of the traps, and it towers and sways like latter day Neurosis playing The Velvet Underground. Epic, psychedelic and throbbing with occult power. Hot on its heels, ‘Wolf On Anareta’ has a real Comets On Fire/old Monster Magnet vibe to it, fuzzed up all to hell and swathed in chirps, otherworldly swooshes and firey leads.
The rural feel is really brought out on ‘Fire Is Sleeping’, an elegiac country blues with a truly mournful violin part at its heart. Vocalist Nate Hall’s cracked voice is to the fore here, and reminds me strongly of Caleb Followill of the Kings Of Leon. The track also puts me in mind of the gorgeous ‘Shelter’ off of Corrosion Of Conformity’s ‘Deliverance’ record, a song that I love.
Listening to ‘Fonta Flora’, the fourth track here, makes me realise that the more I think of it, the more accurate it would be to describe US Christmas as, essentially, a country-blues infused Neurosis. It is easy to see what attracted Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly to this band – they are definitely touching on very similar areas to the solo work of both men and, to a more abstract degree, their shared band. The sonic depth and scope on display here easily matches up to that of Neurosis, although the density of sound is, obviously, not comparable.
The one criticism that I would have of ‘Run Thick In The Night’ is the amount of restraint shown. The tribal thwack of ‘The Quena’ feels like it should be a lead-in to something considerably larger, and as such, is a little frustrating. On the moments that US Christmas DO open up and show us a little more power, such as the previously-mentioned ‘Wolf On Anareta’ , the surging, churning slow-motion burn of ‘Deep Green’ and on the moody, magnificently lysergic album closer ‘The Moon In Flesh and Bone’ – another number that draws vocal comparisons to Caleb Followill – there is a general feeling that something MORE is lurking beneath their surface, waiting to rise within the band. One gets the feeling that US Christmas have yet to show us ALL of the cards with which they are playing.
Neurot would definitely seem to be the ideal home for US Christmas, and ‘Run Thick In The Night’ is a fine, solid piece of backwoods psychedelia, but I feel that it will be their NEXT record that really shows us exactly WHAT they are capable of.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson