As crazy, beautiful, elfin-sounding avant-folk from the 1960s goes, British combo the Incredible String Band (1965-74) totally rule. Way back in 1968, ISB released the first of three mercurial, awesome, Joe Boyd-produced LPs: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, followed by Wee Tam and The Big Huge.
This music is often unrepentantly ridiculous, a great part of its appeal. They actually recorded songs called "Ducks on a Pond," "Cousin Caterpillar," and "Puppies"! But those are great tunes, lilting and strange, sitars and ouds in the background, lyrics sung in deliberately "off" tonalities. They didn't sing solely about animals; "Chinese White" is the sweetest song ever to describe opiate abuse. This music's so twee it would make Belle & Sebastian sound like Slayer, were it not for a fucked-up, deliberate otherworldliness at work.
Incredible String Band's music was informed by Middle Eastern and Indian music in a far more syncretic way than their visionary folk contemporaries (Vashti Bunyan and Tyrannosaurus Rex in the UK, The Holy Modal Rounders and Pearls Before Swine over here.) Best of all, ISB experimented with song structures by chopping bits of tunes together to create gorgeous mini-cycles: "A Very Cellular Song," "Ducks," and "Maya" each last from nine to 13 minutes, which is as long as any rock opera should be.
Today they're name-checked as major influences on the mystical new folk of Animal Collective, Six Organs, and Joanna Newsom (who, delightfully, opens up their Oct 11 show at Berbati's.) That's right--as bands do, they've re-formed. Robin Williamson's not touring with them, but original member Clive Palmer "replaces" him. And judging by the just-released live-in-the-studio CD Nebulous Nearnesses, the only thing missing is their ability to hit a few high notes.