Record Review: Shriekback’s “1000 Books” Anticipates Our Twilight [part 2]

shriekback monktone
Shriekback, L-R: Barry Andrews, Martyn Barker, Carl Marsh

[…continued from last post]

After the preceding steel fist in a velvet glove, “Good Disruption” managed to put a little wind in our sails with another of this album’s late 60s throwback vibes. The Doors-like late 60s cool groove was driven by the call and response from Mr. Andrews’ electric organ and clavinet interplay; torn from the Manzarek playbook. But it was Mr. Marsh’s languid surf guitar licks that were the icing on the warm, fresh, cake.

The nonsense nursery rhyme chorus was a great hook for this paradoxically moody slice of optimism that wisely arrived at this mostly melancholy album’s mid-point. We’re not going anywhere out of this existential morass without a whole lot of good disruption!

At first, the glitchy synth loops at the start of “Everything Happens So Much” had me thinking of Barry Andrews solo material, but the sturdy rolling rhythm of Mr. Barker quickly brought the song back into the Shriekzone. Nevertheless, it’s an enervated and anxious groove that showed Mr. Andrews [understandably] recoiling from the horror of the zeitgeist. Somehow he managed to encapsulate the vertiginous sensation of our world and the humans upon it spinning faster into chaos at the unrelenting pace of the song’s martial rhythm. All enhanced by some dour synth bass courtesy of Scott Firth.

I appreciated how the tension of the verse structure gave way to the shimmering and evanescent chorus of wonder that brought us relief from it all on glissandos of “Star Trek” guitar such as to make Robin Guthrie weep with joy. Here was a song that certainly captured how I feel in this roiling vortex of the now. How we answer it is up to each of us, but Mr. Andrews posed the question here with definitive pathos and generosity.

I will interrogate my spirit guide –

Ask her why the world is amplified;

How it happens

Why everything happens so much?

“Everything Happens So Much”

“Different Story” was one that ambled by on a playful electric piano hook while giving Carl Marsh an opportunity for one of his spoken word middle eights that he has had a penchant for lately [Cf. “The Painter Paints“]. It acted as good pacing in the arc of songs as the lightest moment in this somewhat sombre album.

Then the superb title track allowed Mr. Marsh to sing the existential lament of “1000 Different Books.” It is perhaps more typical for Andrews to helm the Shriekback songs which inhabit that dark night of the soul but that is not always the case as Marsh proved here. The music bed was almost an abstract keening of indistinct layers until the rhythms of Mr. Barker in the gave this one its grounding in the second verse. The essential crux of the haunting song [and its chorus] came down to a quote by director Andrei Tarkovsky that was its genesis:

“A book read by a thousand people is a thousand different books.”

Andrei Tarvoksky

Then the final word came down to Mr. Andrews singing the spectral coda to the album. “Wild World” was built on a tritone drone loop of great distance, with Andrews’ hushed tones touched with a distancing vocoder. It was all a little arid and frosty until the comforting synths that swelled during the brief chorus that acted as a spiritual respite in the face of the ultimate finality. Which was acknowledged with a dispassionate and clear-eyed acceptance, even as the song sought to dispense the closest thing to benediction that it could.

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

“Wild World”

This latest Shriekback album comes in a cover photographed by Joe Del Tufo that’s a photo illustration of a blue book in a landscape bled of color until it’s bone white. That’s an appropriate a visual metaphor for this largely melancholy album that cannot help but reflect the diminished circumstances that are not only the pandemic affecting humanity, but the even worse occurrences happening simultaneously, such as rapid climate change and a seemingly universal erosion of liberal democracy everywhere at once. One cannot help but maintain a sense that the dominoes are all falling simultaneously and that this music can’t help but reflect that reality.

The last three Shriekback albums all coalesce into a satisfying response of the band to the last few years of an increasingly blood-chilling landscape that humanity finds itself in. One where our enlightened leaders have corralled all of us to our detriment. “Why Anything? Why This?” and “Some Kinds Of Light” could still muster a sense of defiance and challenge. A raging at the dying of the light. “1000 Books” is more a case of the band entering the “acceptance phase” of the position where we find ourselves in 2021/2022. We’ve got autocratic demagogues running wild. A worldwide pandemic with no sense that it can ever stop at this point as it inches ever closer to endemic status. And the climate is in a catastrophe phase where nothing we’ve prepared for is guaranteed to happen. Anywhere.

For the second time in a row the band have been produce by Christopher Skirl and the machines have been kept largely at bay. There are synth noises here but they are tucked into the corners. The dominant keyboards are coming from a 1971 perspective. The glorious acoustic drums are vivid and present. The band have made this album in pandemic conditions as opposed to the “together in the studio” practice of the last one specifically. It’s all they can do in the face of increasingly difficult odds. But at the end of the day they have been fantastically productive.

They have released three albums in four years. Without Covid-19, they probably would have hit an annual target. Unlike any of their peers that I could name. Shriekback in the 21st century currently sound as though they have taken a lot of inspiration from their return to live activity in the last few years. Anyone expecting the techno-thrash of “Oil + Gold” might not recognize the band, but that was half a lifetime ago and these gents are cutting away the fripperies and fashions of youth for something a little more timeless. They are crafting music to be a beacon to other like minds who are also staring into the ever widening void and for that we can only be thankful.

post-punk monk buy button

Shriekback are self-powered and their music is available at their web store in full-res DL and CD formats. With specially priced bundles with other related materials [which we’ll get to tomorrow…].

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Record Review: Shriekback’s “1000 Books” Anticipates Our Twilight [part 2]

  1. slur says:

    A really great album and besides it being a CDr, lovely crafted artwork and packaging too. The lyrics can be found online only – but well. The Shrieks operate entirely on their own and put all the money in the studiotime and the result is so good it nearly makes me forget the additional customs I had to pay since Great Britain left Europe (which where twice as high as the asking price of the CDr). Still this made it the most expensive item of 2021 I bough in hindsight. The most cherished ? Too fresh to say for now but worth to get it in whatever format.

    Like

  2. I got this very early in the new year and haven’t had a chance to give it a listen yet, but I have to admit I was annoyed at the minimal packaging (no-booklet digipac) and the CD-R nature of the disc, but I do expect these minor quibbles will be forgiven once I actually listen to it. I’m just glad they’re still around and so productive, as the Monk notes.

    Like

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