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19 October 2017

The Incredible String Band - 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' (Elektra)

By The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, the psychedelic affectations of the previous record's cover are shelved in favour of some back-to-the-roots medieval roleplay, though maybe this is just a more British, stylised form of psychedelia. Joe Boyd's back, and his mark is felt even though the ISB themselves are credited with the arrangements. Still, I think Boyd knew how to record the piano so it sounds like it's being played in a great stone room; how to place microphones near the right part of the acoustic guitar to let the high-mids flow and interact wth the harpsichord so beautifully; how to incorporate a distant waterdripping sound with the string improvisation in the middle of 'The Water Song' to create an amazing atmosphere without things becoming too gimmicky. Heron's 'A Very Cellular Song' is the epic, a 13 minute mega-song which is really just like a few shorter pieces smashed together, and likewise has good and bad moments. About 2/3 of the way through is an instrumental breakdown with jaw's harp, some beat-boxing (really!) and mandolin chip-chop, which is wonderful, fruity, and just brief enough to leave one wanting more. But there's also a strange faux-gospel part (the 'goodnight, goodnight') which is a somewhat painful listen. I guess the idea of 'cellular' means that the song is just an assemblage of parts, rather than a reference to cellular phone technology (though such technology did exist in 1968, it would be called 'mobile' in UK parlance anyway), so it ends up just being a grouping/sequencing/labelling decision since these could have been broken into five or six different songs, and honestly the weak part of the album, especially when compared to some of side two's energy. Lyrically, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter feels a bit more adult than The 5000 Spirits; there's no 'Way Back in the 1960s' or 'Hedgehog Song' here, no simple love songs. Instead we get sinewy narratives, with proper names dropped here and there, and a loose, hippie take on British myth imagery. 'Waltz of the New Moon', 'Nightfall' and 'Koeeoaddi Theme' contain the florid, colourful adjectives that fit this vibe; the freakout jam at the end of 'Three is a Green Crown' matches it with an appropriate musical exploration. Shirley Collins contributes just a little bit of piano and organ but it goes a long way. Maybe this is the best balance they ever reached, but I've only ever heard The Wee Tam and Big Huge in passing so what do I know?

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