The second half of the album began with an real curve ball as “This Is The Science” delivered an almost pastiche of The Tornados iconic “Telstar” with an appropriate [and lively] beat-combo arrangement. The almost playful sound was a big departure for a band best known for its willful obscurity and often burning intensity. Carl Marsh’s lyrics spent the first verse recounting perhaps a metaphoric foray into black magic and the commensurate price paid. But it certainly ended with a big finish in the way that Shrieksongs rarely do.
An immense Bo Diddley-beat from Martyn Barker fueled the thunderous “Hyperactual” wherein Carl Marsh danced around the shouted vocals and got to soar in the middle eight with a touch of harmonica as the album peaked with a chaotic energy that managed to even best that of the opening. The final coup de grace was the tumultuous shower of words as recited by Andrews just below the surface of the climax; once more revisiting the delivery he first tried on “Win A Night Out With A Well-Known Paranoiac.”
My favorite song on this album was the quintessentially saturnine mystery of “The Fire Has Brought Us Together.” The delicate number that had Barker barely playing a delicately brushed beat while Barry Andrews rocked the spectral string patches as well as delivering the lyrical payload. The soar and sustain on Marsh’s guitar suggested possible EBow involvement. His brief solo was just that; I could have withstood several bars more. The arrangement not only had massed chorus vocals but also featured Andrews on his long-missed falsetto in the contrapuntal vocals. Of course Andrews managed to fit a word like “prophylaxis” into the paradoxically lyrically dense but musically spare tune. This band were still finding ways to explore arcane beauty like few others.
The even more delicate “The Elated World [Cornell Boxes]” was just drones and vibes and spectral bass synth; barely there as Andrews echoed in the spacious song’s expanse. Barker’s skittering snares only entered the song after the first chorus to begin propelling the song forward out of its inertia. The title alluded to the work of Joseph Cornell; the compulsive assemblage artist and collagist whose “Soap Bubble Box” I’d seen at the Art Institute of Chicago s few years back. The Nits wrote a winsome song by that title, but I think that Shriekback have managed to wrest the crown from that band with this one; so named after the phrase that the reticent Cornelll gave to his environment.
The mood continued to its conclusion with the only slightly louder “Galileo” from the pen of Mr. Marsh, who stepped out of his more usual extroverted role in the band dynamic to investigate the shady side of the street on the closer. There was more delicate reverberant electric piano from Andrews as the notes trickled down like raindrops on the shimmering synths and Marsh’s coolly observant vocal. It was a pensive closer to this album.
When Shriekback began the process of making this album in the spring of this year, the conceit was to get the members together in a room, writing and arranging like the old days. Mr. Andrews had confided that the last album was initially created in member’s recording sheds, etc. and then Mr. Barker came in the studio and played the very real drums that figure on Shriekback albums of this era. In defiance to the Linn Drum reliance of the band’s commercial heyday. I found this album to be more or less of a piece with “Why Anything? Why This?” To these ears, it felt like the “Big Night Music” vibe was still the jumping off point for the writing process with the machine-led era of the “Jam Science”/“Oil + Gold” era being the aberration. The only hint of discord was to be found in “This is The Science,” which could have been the weird outlier B-side in an earlier time. As for the rest of this, it all fit together like a puzzle of dark pieces which were almost, but not quite, entirely black.
Shriekback have indeed proven adept at weaving their tapestry over a large span of time and space, using numerous methodologies at different times. And yet the essence of the band’s artistic P.O.V. remains as vivid and unchanging as their sonic footprint is mutable. Cut a Shriekback song and it will bleed the distinct lyrical plasma that Andrews and Marsh bring to the task. These twin sons of different mothers have their own distinct approaches while being clearly perpendicular to whatever the norm may be in popular song over time. The dryly clinical approach of Andrews sounded like the work of a particularly poetic scientist at odds with his surroundings. Marsh instead sought to recombine familiar elements in new and startling ways. They both cast a jaundiced eye at the expectations of society around them as they strove to have a human response to the inhumanity that we all have to deal with.
This is the second Shriekback album in as many years nearly 40 years into their lifespan. A man could get used to this. It’s gone out to Indiegogo pledgers, but anyone else of interest would do well to haunt the band’s webstore or try the big button below. “Some Kinds of Light” will undoubtedly show up in one of those two locations any day now.
– 30 –