Strapping Fieldhands-Discus

September 8, 2008

Strapping Fieldhands

Discus LP (Omphalos 1994)

http://www.mediafire.com/?15lq59s4muc

There is something magical and special about this album and its place and time in my life. If you haven’t picked up my very unsubtle and non-existent hints, I grew up in Philadelphia and had the pleasure of spending much of my youth shopping at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, which is still manned by members of the Strapping Fieldhands. Now this is totally irrelevant to both mine and your enjoyment of this somewhat forgotten gem, but this store shaped much of my musical taste and served as an inspiration, source of advice and a place where I was mocked for buying a Steely Dan box set. Anyhow, it was a place to meander and get turned onto to the Majora and Siltbreeze labels while tempering my love of bad indie-rock with some hoary old psych chestnuts. In short, 3rd Street Jazz and Rock and Record Exchange sated my music addiction with proteins and monounsaturated fats instead of the empty calories to be found in the competing genres which could’ve stolen my attention. God, this was meant to be a simple salute and now it some meandering dedication, but thank you fellows.

Let us get back to the music.  After a couple singles on Siltbreeze, the band recorded their debut, which remains sadly out of print and unavailable to those that may latch onto their ramshackle love of loner psych, skiffle, untuned balladry and perfectly concocted pop melodies played off the cuff. I may be totally wrong, but Discus always seemed like a bunch of music aficionados tapping into the best of Peter Hamill, Incredible String Band, Lonnie Donegan and early Holy Modal Rounders in the context of what Guided By Voices were doing in the early 90s.

Until the day I die, I will always be sucker for the opening track “Boo Hoo Hoo” which says little beyond the chorus and invitations to engage in carnal passions in a Scottish glade. It is so simple, but a perfectly imperfect ditty about an illicit weekend rendezvous and the consequences with a lazy regard for the consequences. Almost three minutes into the track, there is a such a sloppy, but uplifting guitar riff that always plasters a grin on my face.

I could never figure out all of the lyrics to “When I Came” but it always engendered these melancholy feelings due to the ramshackle rise and fall of the instrumentation mixed with the endlessly hopeful chorus. It seemed like a feel good song strangled by an inability to decide which mood to embrace.

Polished isn’t a term I would use for any Strapping Fieldhands album or single, but there is something about the smudges and smears that endeared Discus to me. There is a sad heart that beats beneath the sloppiness, myriad of influences and happy-go-lucky exterior that kind of grabbed me and never let go years later.

COB

Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart (1972)

http://www.mediafire.com/?b23pnfzvfy7

There is much love within my heart for the Incredible String Band and their meandering hippie opuses about minotaurs and good ol’ cousin caterpillar. I remember the first time my punk ass saw the cover of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and snickering at the commune of foppish souls in technicolor coats and beaded necklaces, but once my viewpoint was forever altered once I actually heard it years later. My narrow mindedness isn’t much of a surprise since I once thought oversized t-shirts, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and malt liquor were enjoyable, so I wasn’t exactly ahead of the curve.

Clive Palmer was an integral part of the first Incredible String Band record which was a more straighforward affair that sort of reminds me of an Appalachian via English skiffle-folk version of the Holy Modal Rounders’ first two lps. Yeah, it isn’t an entirely accurate description, but it’ll do for now. Clive left the band before they expanded and explored more abstract, experimental territory. In the meantime, he joined the Famous Jug Band and recorded a solo effort entitled Banjoland, but these outlets were lesser lights. At the urging of Ralph McTell, he formed COB. or Clive’s Original Band, and recorded two of the best English folk/psych albums of all-time. First came 1970s Spirit of Love, then came their grand finale Moyshe McStiff.

Supposedly a song cycle about Crusades, Moyshe McStiff’s title and cover image evoke a mystical quality that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incredible String Band cover. In fact, the music is eerily reminiscent of their 60s recordings as the band’s invention of a dulcimer/sitar hybrid, the dulcitar, echoes the woozy, mystical vibes of ISB’s most stoned moments. Biblical themes abound as COB references Judah, Solomon, Martha and Mary as the band delves into spiritual quests and the meaning of love. It is such an earnest, sincere album that would seem ridiculous if it wasn’t so gorgeous.

The centerpiece of the album is “Let It Be You” which may be one of the most tender, but simple love songs I’ve heard. It is a celebration of the power of song to immortalize true love as well as a tender sentiment. It is a testament to power of words as well as the ephemeral quality of our affections. It is full of dedication and uncertainty just like those first exhilarating months of a new relationship.

To put it it down right, to make it true

if my songs were people, this could be you

but if i lose it, or just confuse it

lets make it summer, lets make it you

and when i’m longing let it be you

and when im giving let it be you

i woke this morning and without warning

someone was near me and it was you