Review – Shriekback – 1000 Books

“A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books” – Andrei Tarkovsky

“1000 Books is Shriekback’s 16th album and boldly marks the band’s 40th birthday. Big numbers for a big record – this is Shriekback in depth and detail, nine songs by turns majestic, elegiac, confrontational and just plain funky. The lyrical reflections on mortality, sensuality and the world we live in are carried along on impeccable multi-layered grooves, lucid and lunatic. The contributions of core members – Barry Andrews, Martyn Barker and Carl Marsh – are supported by the passionately precise backing vocals of long-time collaborators Wendy and Sarah Partridge, the assertive bass of Scott Firth and sonically framed with wide-screen vision by producer Christoph Skirl. Take something from this record and plant it in your life: it will grow with you.”

Shriekback have been doing their thing since the 1980’s but I got introduced to them by Martyn Barker, founding member and guitarist extraordinaire, after reviewing his wonderful solo album ‘Water & Stone’. The music couldn’t be farther apart with Martyn’s solo work being folk and Celtic influenced and Shriekback being, well, totally different! Electronica, experimental, indie-rock, funk and ambient, just about everything makes an appearance in ‘1000 Books’ forty-one minute running time.

If I’m being brutally honest, I could not make my mind up about this album on the first few listens with it being both intriguing and challenging at the same time but that’s what is so wonderful about a lot of music, sometimes it requires you to give as much as you take from it. With repeated listens this compelling and provocative album will finally open up and reveal its inner glories to you and, while it may not be for everyone, I found it utterly fascinating, thought provoking and, in a very good way, strange.

There’s a Victorian grandeur to opener Space In The Blues, all majestic with its faded pomp and splendour and a feel of ‘Pablo Honey’ Radiohead to its mesmerising rhythm. A funky bass, drums and guitar open Unholiness, a song almost too cocksure for its own good but, as it opens up, it has real good time vibe to it, I can almost hear an influence of the The B-52’s creeping in, an invitation to join the wild ride and it’s damn infectious too! Portobello Head is a venture into the unknown with a mad professor edge to it and a feel that David Byrne could have written this slightly maniacal song. It is utterly brilliant and darkly delicious, the band seemingly enjoying themselves way too much!

With lyrics delivered as if in a lecture, Slowly At First Then All At Once opens with a relatively calm facade and carries on with whimsical and wistful overtone. I’m waiting for that tongue in cheek enthusiasm to erupt but Shriekback surprise me by delivering something that wouldn’t be amiss on an early Pink Floyd or Gentle Giant release. That David Byrne influence mentioned earlier makes a return on the silky, stylish grooves of Good Disruption, a slice of New York indie-funk at its finest, sharp suit, white shirt and pencil tie a must. Edgy, earthy and hip, there’s a dark undertone to the moody and impulsive Everything Happens So Much, cabalistic disco rhythms abound as the menacing vocals raise the hackles.

Different Story is just joyful, swirling keyboards and a superb drumbeat underpinning a rather impressive song with a really catchy chorus. There’s an 80’s pop music polish to this really engaging piece of music. A hushed wonder seems to herald title track 1000 Books as the majesty and grandiosity of the opening track makes a return. There’s a tense atmosphere as the song seems to rumble on inexorably in its own mysterious fashion, “A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books”. The album comes to a close with the futuristic, almost alien, wonder of Wild World, an entrancing four and a half minutes of music that makes you look inward at your own self and invites a feeling of calm inquisitiveness.

‘1000 Books’ is not a just 9 tracks of music, Shriekback have created an engrossing and magnificently offbeat musical experience, at times intensely serious and at others, beuatifully chaotic. It may be a wild ride but, my friends, it is one that I would urge you to take because you will never have heard anything quite like it. On a most basic level, it just made me smile for a very long time and you can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Released 1st December, 2021.

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