If you had to produce a list of the influences on American post-punk — in descending order of importance — chances are rustic British folk would rank somewhere near the end. At times, however, it seems as if that’s the only music to have had any impact on Philadelphia’s Strapping Fieldhands, an unabashedly Anglophile quintet weaned on the Incredible String Band’s Layers of the Onion (with just a dusting of the Bevis Frond for flavor). Don’t call ’em revivalists, though: like kindred lo-fi spirits Guided by Voices, the Fieldhands (aside from percussionist Jeff Werner) are all old enough to remember the stuff as contemporary.
Like good and evil twins separated at birth, the quintet’s first two EPs thresh deeply into rural territory, sharing a “production” quality rough enough to qualify them as (no pun intended) field recordings. The Demiurge lies squarely on the creepier side of the tracks, with Bob Dickie’s cello and bass providing a suitably gothic latticework to aid the organic growth of frontman Bob Malloy’s neo-Appalachian allegories (the best of which is the porch-mystic “Poor Mr. Jesus”). Future Pastoral finds the band, augmented by second guitarist Jacy Webster, on a jollier bender, but on a bender nonetheless: “Stacey Donelly” and the desert moan “Ol’ Jimmy Cole” (which boasts some cleverly sampled 78 rpm pops’n’clicks) stagger with the unfettered glee of vintage Holy Modal Rounders fortified with vintage port.
Discus, the band’s first full-length release, allows for a more expansive look into the Fieldhands’ world, albeit one that intensifies the Anglo-fetish: Malloy’s affected-but-charming faux British accent has seldom been thicker, his prose never more Merrie Olde than on “Lonnie Donegan’s Mum’s Tea Chest” or “Biscuits and Kippers.” The heavy skiffle vibe is broken by such oddities as the pogo-folk “Boo Hoo Hoo” and the lugubrious Hawkwind doppelgänger “Luminous Bodies.” Downright weird. In the Pineys again zigs when you’d expect it to zag, lowering the studio quality another notch (you can actually hear a telephone ringing amid the between-track background noise) and offering up an all-hands-on-deck chantalong version (CD buyers can make that two) of Melanie’s Woodstock kitsch-fest “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).”