Longtime Philly legends Strapping Fieldhands have threaded themselves through the narrative of American indie without ever quite settling on its ethos. The band was part of the original Siltbreeze stable and found themselves chomping on a psych-folk root long before bands the oughts wave would take hold. In the same respect the band lit onto a lo-fi filament long before that same decade would round back on the sound as well. The band was somehow perennially ahead of and behind the times, lost in a fog of their own and making myths where others were simply sharpening hooks. With the tipsy demeanor of sea shanties and the brazenness of Skip Spence covering The Fugs, the band has mown their own path time and again.
Along the way they charmed their way into opening slots and record stacks, becoming a kind of band’s band, the kind that wind up with fawning tales of legendary shows seen by handfuls that would go on to absorb their wit and wonder into their own works. They opened for the Frogs, Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion without ever becoming a household name, an achievement in their own right. Over the years each record has become its own sweaty souvenir of free folk’s enduring legacy and with their latest for Petty Bunco, they continue their unimpeachable run.
With the same mix of folk, bluegrass bluster, psychedelia, and blues the band crafts a new set of singe that wobbles with joy. Through the fuzz and wheeze of rusted hooks, the group brand the listener with off-center earworms that feel like a barn dance dosed and bedeviled by fever. There’s old parlor magician trick where the performer asks the audience to stare at a spiral for half a minute and then focus on a face, with the optical illusion distorting the size and shape of their perception. Every song on Across The Susquehanna feels like this trick — the familiar rendered distorted and fantastical, letting the mind swim from the effects. Seventeen odd years on, the band’s still shredding the fringe and feeling more comfortable than ever in the fray.
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