[…continued from last post]
As a seasoned Shriekback listener I should know better, but the cowbell that “The Wolfman Whinesplains” had dashed all expectation to attain a groove much closer to War’s “Low Rider” than anything ever issued from Barry Andrews’ brain. Sooner or later, Shriekback will throw that curve ball and this one was a doozy. What we had here was a rustic-sounding groove close to Roma flamenco, complete with a line in daring shifts of meter… very Crimsoninan in that respect. As was the unifying trend on “Bowlahoola,” there was a typically bold and theatrical chorus with the massed voices of Andrews and the Partridge sisters emoting heroically.
Gradually, the low throb of synth loops began to intrude in on the heretofore acoustic space of the song while the ante upped via the layering of multipart harmonies which formed the brash climax of this beguiling number that was not much like anything else in the Shriekback canon I’d heard. Naturally, this is one of the several cuts from this album which have drilled a hole through my cranium to lodge themselves there for the time being.
“Brute Fact View” kept up a vibe that was as hard, minimal, and relentless as the three syllables that made up its name. A kindred spirit to “Baby Floods The Zone,” at least in vibe. It was all grinding synths with Mr. Andrews piling on his split-octave vocals for the slightly dissonant power that comes no other way as easily. It’s the sort of song that has a warning klaxon solo for its middle eight before the one beat drop jerked us back into the groove. Interestingly enough, the lyric “why anything, why this?” popped up here in spite of being the title of Shriekback’s 2016 album. Possibly showing how long this song has been gestating; looking for the right home.
So far the album had been haunting or intense, with a few side trips to neither. What “Safeword” delivered in spades was the quality that perhaps we don’t think of immediately when regarding Shriekback, but that quality was…fun. Sure, “Safeword” was a typically gregarious funky dancefloor number. If this album were a film, this would be the scene where the bold femme grabbed the wallflower guy by his tie and dragged him out onto the dancefloor where sparks would began to fly.
But the overriding sense of playful fun driving the song reacted sagely against the real concerns of the lyrics. The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, and who knows what the safeword really is, but this celebration of the state of not knowing managed to show that the artist was not immune to the charms of his own processes. I dare anyone to resist the giddiness of the call-and response middle eight where the Partridges shout down every guess spilling from Andrews’ lips.
We got a chaser of ephemeral delicacy next as the rhythm box samba of “Nympholept” seemed to recall the sort of songs in the past where drummer Martyn Barker might break out his infamous gardening sticks for a tiny, delicate rhythm. While string patches pregnant with melodrama maintained the sense of yearning/foreboding. Sarah and Wendy Partridge were in full evidence on this album. Andrews leaned heavily of their vocal charms to help him flesh out this one and to insure that as much Shriek-DNA got invested into the proceedings as possible. Here they were duetting with Andrews and stepped completely out of background. The eBow guitar also added mystery to this almost chanson from the pen of Andrews.
It had been a sprawling Shriekback album thus far. “We All Lie Down In The River” arrived on delicate keys with a spoken word performance from Andrews for a benedictive feel. Apparently folks do lie down in the Severn River Bore in Gloustershire as there’s a wave at certain times where it flows from the sea upriver. Of course, the chorus is typically robust as the massed vocals were endemic to the character of this album. That was a thread of continuity that ran through all of the songs.
It was surprising hearing the water invoked for a lyric at one point decrying the sensual and advocating for its sublimation in the all-encompassing fluid instead. Interesting. In song, water usually stands in for unstoppable passion; not its antithesis. The final round of the chorus once more featured multi-part harmonies from all concerned and more surprisingly, a rare shift to a major key for the grand finale. Mr. Andrews then retreated from the party; leaving the final word to the interweave of the harmonious voices of the sisters Partridge.
Following the more resigned state of “1000 Books,” “Bowahoola” strove instead to connect with sinew and spine in the tumult of the now, and to give us inspiration to carry on in the face of ever more spiritual carborundum coming our way hourly. This album was an eruption of energy, for the most part. Sometimes reflective of decapitated-chicken confusion; sometimes tightly channeled rage against very real agents chaos and destruction. And boy, does that ever feel good to engage in. Even its placid moments revealed a bifurcated nature whereby their choral structures sought to affirm values of vigor and action by way of counterpoint. Sometimes ironic; but others not.
While the Partridge sisters have separately and together been a constant in much of the 21st century Shriekback story, their presence here was never bettered for the sheer musicality they can bring to the proceedings. They added a most vital yin energy to the album that was entirely welcome. They were the clearly present tie to the larger corpus of Shriekback past and present.
Further, “Bowlahoola” successfully answers the musical question: can Barry Andrews alone trim the sails of the good ship Shriekback and deliver the goods? Like his solo albums, this was just him and machines, save for his interjections of guitar, but the essence of Shriekback was primary here in ways that was usually abandoned deliberately on his solo efforts. He’s wise enough to recognize when material he’s compelled to write is coming from the Shriekback center of his brain, so this was duly delivered. Do we miss the laconic coyote drawling of Carl Marsh or the heartbeat of Martyn Barker from the proceedings? Would I miss my left foot? But I’d be thrilled to still have my right one!
In the great Shriekback venn diagram, the shriekmind is made from overlapping zones of Marsh and Andrews’ brains. With Marsh having an extrusion which was blues-adjacent on occasion and Andrews having affinities to folk, which have sometimes manifested here. But “Bowlahoola” opened with a bold statement and managed to ratchet the stakes even higher following that. And it all ended on a note of placidity; as was usually the case with Shriekback albums. Andrews was wise enough to know that for every probing or defiant question, a little reassurance is sometimes necessary just to get us through the long dark night ahead. This album will be released any day now in the Shriekback webstore in CD/DL configurations. Until that day, it may be explored in full here. I suspect it won’t be more than a few days until you can hit that button below for purchase. If you’ve read this far, know you want to.