Questlove, Black Thought Help Put a Psychedelic Spin on 'Toyland' - Rolling Stone
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Questlove, Black Thought Help Turn Christmas Classic ‘Toyland’ Into Psych Rock Stomper

“#Toyland” is the latest offering from Ray Angry and Katherine McMahon’s ongoing project, Public Domain

Questlove, Black Thought, bass great Pino Palladino and more have partnered with pianist-producer Ray Angry and artist Katherine McMahon for a new rendition of the Christmas standard, “Toyland.”

“#Toyland” is part of Angry and McMahon’s ongoing Public Domain project, which has found the pair — and a revolving door of collaborators — creating new versions of old songs that are no longer beholden to copyright protections. The original “Toyland” was penned by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough in 1903 for their holiday operetta Babes in Toyland; the new Public Domain version also features Marcus King, Liv Warfield, and Dap-Kings’ Ian Hendrickson Smith and Dave Guy on horns. 

“Ray Angry is one of the most creative fearless composers in the galaxy,” Questlove tells Rolling Stone in an email. “Brace yourselves, good people, this is just getting started.”

Where the original “Toyland” is steeped in notions of childhood nostalgia and loss of innocence, McMahon says “#Toyland” was inspired by an acid trip and how psychedelic and spiritual experiences “run parallel to everyday loss of innocence that occurs in adulthood.”

“I saw ‘Toyland’ as this metaphorical space of self-exploration and freedom but also a space of deviance and distortion,” she says. “The idea was to pervert the original meaning to explore our cycles of transgression and redemption that’s both a bleak reminder of our limitations as humans but also a promising sign of life. In some ways, this song is a reflection about the incompleteness of adulthood compared to our childhood projections of what it might be, and the temporary catharsis we try to find along the way in a time that often feels cold, technological, and nihilistic.”

Taking inspiration from psych rock outfits like the Zombies and Moby Grape, McMahon and Angry’s “#Toyland” boasts a restless groove cut through with sharp horn stabs, serpentine guitar and booming, ominous vocals. Black Thought also delivers a characteristically mighty performance, which McMahon says he recorded in just one take, “speaking directly to, but also building upon the existential dilemma at the core of the conceptual rewrite in such a nuanced and poetic way.”

“I knew this record had great potential even as a demo so it has been really cool to watch it evolve in real time,” Black Thought adds. “The stakes were raised with every layer, sound, musician that Ray decided to add and the result is something brilliantly unique and original.”

“The process it took to create ‘#Toyland’ is a dream realized,” says Angry. “It’s so rewarding to create a piece of art that connects to the past,  while at the same time navigating a better future for creatives.”

“#Toyland” marks Angry and Domain’s third Public Domain offering, following “#AlcoholicBlues” and “#NewBornAgain.”

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