Am I the only guy who finds the inconsistency of The Strapping Fieldhands to be more frustrating than endearing? The band's records can veer all over the landscape, often ending up in a charming little ramshackle cabin by a babbling brook where all of their interests blend together. But the times I've seen the Fieldhands live they've laid down a sloppy and only mildly diverting brand of punk rock. So what gives? In indie land these days nobody is going to get off that fence, everyone wants their bands to be jacks of all trades. It's as though consumers want an album to do the work of a record collection by itself.
Wattle & Daub is, fortunately, in the vein of the band's great recordings. A crazy mixture of psych wrangling mixes with a shanty-like chorus on "Song of Mourning Dove" is proof positive. The Strapping Fieldhands' greatest strength is exhibited at moments like this when they ladle on bits of folky psyche diversions over the skeleton of a rock song. A shuffle like "The Oath" is pleasant enough I guess, and many of the songs on this record are brief and to the point. I find myself preferring the longer excursions, in which the band twists and turns a bit. Those moments of combined guitar twisting are the ones I remember and identify as the Fieldhand's high spots. As with so many bands these days, The Strapping Fieldhands' diversity is actually a weakness of sorts-it prevents them from stubbornly digging into songs and working them out to their greatest potential. Eclecticism can be a cul de sac, it tends to divert bands into producing snippets that end up going nowhere. Or a cut like "Lunar Diversions" with an almost embarrassingly unnecessary sitar on it. The good news is that Wattle & Daub has relatively few moments like that; the band is taking advantage of the album format to work out a few explorations. There's a sort of crazy percussion/horn tangle called "Soundshapes" that bears more than a bit of resemblance to the hippie commune jams of Amon Duul. It merges into the jumble psychedelia of "Scuttled Kayak Odyssey" and, for the moment, my frustration dissipates. A band that can throw so many textures into a tune and imagine some song structures outside the beaten paths of indie rock really ought to stretch out a bit. There are enough dabblers around, dontcha think? [Shangri-La]
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