Who knew that taking a hit of lysergic acid diethylamide could basically turn you into a musician? If you've ever seen a drum circle of unkempt hippies, you'll know exactly what I mean: those hippie drum circles are torturous and arhythmic. There were oodles of bands and freaks from the Summer of Love on, yet there's a chance that most people fellas ain't heard anywhere near most of it. The Incredible String Band are perhaps one of these often-overlooked collectives, driven by Mike Heron and Robin WIlliamson. Heron rocked out while Williamson was in a variety bluegrass bands, but they eventually met up and gave birth to what some recognize as freak folk today.
Upon first listening to The Incredible String Band, I noticed there was something distinct about them, but at the same time there was a common thread spread throughout the music: traditional Celtic and English folk. These influences bring an earthly and warm tone to the songs as Williamson croons in high and somewhat nasal vocal styling. Note that Williamson is not what one may consider an accomplished vocalist. Rather, he channels a very traditional vox that would fit perfectly in Renaissance times. Quite often, he'll switch abruptly from his normally high voice to a low, droning monotonous one. The instrumentation here is pleasantly varied as they make use of a sitar, gimbri, pan pipe, oud, and chahanai in addtion to the standard acoustic guitars.
The Hangman's Beatiful Daughter
introduces itself with the excellent "Koeeoaddi There", shifting constantly between slow acoustic passages to sitar twangs. Robin Williamson's lyrics tend to be naturalistic and earthly: "Tongues of the sheer wind, setting you foot where the sand is untrodden, the ocean that only begins" What seems to be most unsatisfactory characteristic of many of the songs here is the bands' need to skew tempos for some sort of dramatic effect which never really occurs. "Witches Bat" features welcome use of pan pipe along with more subdued singing and melodies. Shifting tempos doesn't seem to be an awkward occurence, too. "A Very Cellular Song" takes the laced cake, making up a good portion of the album at a brisk thirteen minutes. Keyboards provide a relaxing churchesque feeling as Heron's lyrics are sung out with conviction: "Lay down my dear sister/ Won't you lay and take your rest / Won't you lay your head upon your saviours breast / And I love you but Jesus loves you the best ". As it moves on from the best moment throughout The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
, "A Very Cellular Song" never loses itself in ambition or sudden shifts in mood. They're all expected. And there's jew harp!
However, despite how non-bad-trippingly awesome "A Very Cellular Song" is, the second half of The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
falls into vast feels of musical mud. Sure, "Mercy I Cry City" may be a searing, lyrically wonderful song ("Your slowly killing fumes now squeeze the lemon in my head / Make me know just what it's like for a sin drenched christian to be dead"), but as far as interesting music goes, it's all downhill from there. There's an easy explanation for this, though. The Icredible String Band were lost in their own naive hippie ambitions, though this does not prove to be a necessarily bad factor. None of the songs are grating such as "The Minotaur's Song", yet they never really come out of their hobbit holes to capture one's imagination. "There is a Green Crown" proves itself superior to the latter portion of The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
, with sitar and other instruments fluttering around strummed acoustic guitar and that familiar droning voice that has accompanied us throughout our journey through Middle Earth. Actually, the sitar playing here is the most accomplished, providing a hazy feel that quite a few songs lack. Then the man busts out the creepy longhair drone "She beareth thought she beareth visions / Speaking truth in contradictions / Dreams of pain dreams of laughter / And every action follows after". Charles Manson, watch yo back next time you be near Frodo's hole, ya hear?
Despite quite a few allusions to brilliance (also known as flaws), The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
is a beautiful daughter of a bunch of hairy ugly dudes who spend too much time reading into mythological hokus pokus and strumming their acoustic guitars. And after all, the least I can do is thank it for helping sculpt a genre that most people don't really care about. SQUARES.