Strapping Fieldhands-Discus

September 8, 2008

Strapping Fieldhands

Discus LP (Omphalos 1994)

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.

Various Artists-Suburban Bucharest: Mahala Sounds From Romania (Trikont 2005)

God knows I love the Sun City Girls’ label Sublime Frequencies and their essential collections of raw, authentic music from around the globe. The Trikont label is a close second in this sparsely populated field and this collection of rambunctious, hypnotic music may be one of my favorite albums these days. Some of the tracks are sort of fit my unfair stereotype of Romanian music: forlorn vocals, sad string arrangements and impassioned fiddling, but I have been proven hopelessly wrong as usual.

Admittedly, about half of these tracks do fit into my preconceived box, but the other half offers discoveries on par with the moment I discovered Mogollar and Erkin Koray and realized that Turkey was responsible for some of the best psych of the 60s and 70s. The first track “Iag Bari” by Dan Armeanca and Fanfare Ciocarla incorporates Indian and Latin influences and the end result is a trippy whirling dervish that is replete with a repetitive horn section that push his pleas into overdrive. Dan Armeanca provides another highlight with “Can Marraulan” which draws from Middle Eastern inspirations as Dan’s vocal performance is a passionate tour de force. Dude could be singing about torturing houseflies and I wouldn’t care an iota. A few tracks sound like a bad Bollywood production, but the majority of these tracks provide a welcome introduction to the sounds of Romania.