Shriekback, whose annals stretch back to the early 1980s, are a niche unto themselves. The band, whose core members now comprise Barry Andrews (vocals, keyboards), Carl Marsh (guitar), and Martyn Baker (drums), always stood apart from the post-punk crowd, seemingly crawling from a petri dish of funk, slap bass, and lyrics so Beat that they beat the beats at their cosmic game.
1000 Books marks Shriekback’s fifteenth studio album, on which Andrews, Baker, and Marsh are joined by long-time backing vocalists Wendy and Sarah Partridge, and the bass playing of Scott Firth. It's one of their finest works. The stripped-down band feels as if it has been dabbling in swampy blues wedded to the Shriekback vision. In short, all the organisms have been lined up leading to this latest document.
It’s taut, funky, humorous, and politically-charged. There is a lot of musing on where we are all going, personally and collectively, and every inch of it is worth lending an ear. Carl Marsh sums up the tone of the album on the lead-off track, “Space In The Blues.”
I am blessed and cursed, I am fearing the worst
Obsessively charting our last days on Earth
In the luminous dawn, The irrational gleam
With everything coming apart at the seams
I will fall, fall, fall, Through the space in the blues
Shriekback brings their style of funk to enliven the most shriveled souls. “Unholiness” is all whip-smart, literate charm: when was the last time you moved your ass to “the signifier and the signified”? Roll over, de Saussure.
“Portobello Road” gives us some deep bass as Andrews intones:
Defrock me, windsock me, cock block me, in a limited way
consume me, perfume me, and groom me, wipe the mess away
sincerely, just merely, Cuff me to the radiator
For politics and wistfulness, you can’t do better than “Slowly At First Then All At Once.”
I am comfortable calling is a masterpiece, where the small events lead up to eventual revelations: The love that blossoms, in both its kisses and moments of anger.
And has there been a more succinct warning of authoritarianism lately than:
Ubu Roi and Mu’ammar. with all their sadopopular ambitions,
(characterized by many lies, beyond the normal scope of even politicans),
dismantled one by one the democratic institutions of their nations.
Then the knocks at midnight came and the executions, pogroms and deportations.
And everyone ignored the signs:, The gradual crescendo of their crimes.
Slowly it comes at first, then all at the one time.
Critical thoughts, naturally expressed by Andrews’ delivery. This is followed by “Everything Happens So Much,” which sounds like everyone’s impassioned cry at a contemporary world seemingly spinning out of control – why does everything happen so much?
Special mention has to be made of the album’s closer, “Wild World,” with its glistening, murky sensibility. Andrews’ voice is processed through a vocoder, and puts me in mind of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” But it’s not an Anderson re-hash; it’s Shriekback, with lessons learned.
And the Wild World listens as you sing, and the Wild World wants you for a sunbeam,
although the light is fading, there’s still enough to read by,
and the world will hold a candle for you, as the hallucinations speed by,
and you’d better make your peace with, all the things you know are true now,
and all the things you didn’t do, …that you’re never gonna do now.
I can’t listen to “Wild World” without being moved to tears, and Andrews emerges from the mechanistic production to declare that “World, I cannot hold you close enough, this I leave with you.”
1000 Books finds Shriekback on top of their game and purveyors of soundworlds that fuse the body and the intellect. It’s a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster, grasping for sympathy and understanding, eyes cast in wonder at the fish below the ice and the gill-less humans on the streets. Ultimately, we can’t escape history, but we can dance and move like jelly as long as Shriekback keeps dropping science like this. – Lee Blackstone
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