Anything that puts me in mind of All About Eve is going to be good with me. That may be a lazy way to start talking about Eve Vine’s fine new single but it does come swathed in similar psychedelic meets gothic textures, the same translucent beauty, the same sonic elegance. But whereas Julianne Reagan and the crew quickly headed out into more pastel and Pre-Raphaelite territory, Evi Vine stays closer to the swirling dark riches that AAE’s early demos marked them out for.
There is no template for a Shriekback album, we worked that out a long time ago. They have that brilliant way about them, a way of using different sonic building blocks from album to album, from track to track, and yet always sound like Shriekback and blending that sort of quintessential familiarity with the ability to be so musically flexible is the magic formula that all bands worth their salt should be searching for. Thankfully, few bands manage to capture such seemingly mutually exclusive concepts and so the band remain a brilliant go to for those looking for exceptions rather than rule followers.
As opening salvo Shovelheads bursts forth, it gives you an indication of some of the loose boundaries of their sonic playground this time out. Sleazy and raw guitars, sumptuous harmonies, diabolical gospel vibes and a more organic approach to the sound all resulting in the same apocalyptic blues, southern mutant grooves and blasted, wasteland rock vibes that the likes of Nick Cave and Jeffery Lee Pierce revelled in.
As always, their love of language is apparent with puns and word play, twisted narratives and dark nursery rhymes, the poetic, the profound and the profane all playing out. Never has a lyric had the ability to run from the Byronic to the moronic (in the most knowing and positive sense of the meaning) in such a short space. “The dog man don’t but the cat-man-du”..apparently! Geditt? Oh, never mind.
Lead single, And The Rain tips a battered Fedora at Tom Waits, The Painter Paints is a blend of philosophical spoken word, scattered jazz fragments and late night soulfulness and 37 is a post-punk sea shanty to be sung as the final maelstrom pulls us under the waves. A reference to the band’s age too perhaps? As always it’s a joy to spend time in Shriekback’s world, a world of words and musical gene-splicing, a place that seems to exist with one foot in the dark underbelly of modern society and the other in a parallel, mirror world woven from their own wonderful imaginations, thoughts and fears.
We hear a lot of talk these days of the post-genre musical world, a place where the tribal allegiances and lines of demarcation have been swept away and people are free to mix and match musical ideas as they see fit. News flash kiddies, Shriekback has been approaching music that way for more than three decades!
It does seem of late, that after a long time spent wondering why music isn’t using its natural platform effectively enough, I have been writing more and more about music with a social conscience. The Judex rallying against wilful ignorance of the world outside their door, The Radioactive Isotopes and their satirical take on North Korea and even songs as direct in their titles as Flag Burner and Not My President all pulling no punches. And now in front of me is the latest from Aliens, a music, art and animation collective whose scope grew quickly from just a songwriting project in the face of the tumultuous state of world affairs.
Baby Is An Alien is a swirl of rock guitars and pop hooks, but where others would be content to groove, this crunches, where they bop this punches, it is hazy and psychedelic, lyrically analogous and elegantly put together. Yes there is a slightly claustrophobic feel from the mass of sounds that they have packed in here, but it is so well threaded together that it never feels overplayed rather energetic, edgy and eclectic.
Driven by Del Amitri stalwart Iain Harvie and film-maker Tim May they have collected a number of interesting people into their multi-discipline, creative circle so that their ideas are not limited to just the usual musical platform and live they are joined by Fraser McColl and Shriekback’s Martyn Barker.
Poignant music is normally born of turbulent times and I have been waiting for bands such as Aliens to make themselves heard and it says something about the tipping point we are reaching that in the last few months I seem to be writing about a raft of discontented, worried, angry voices. All we need to do now is support them so that those voices get heard.
Mercurial and intelligent as ever Shriekbacks 13th Album is one regular rotation here at Dancing Towers and so we though it only right to share the video for the opening track with you from an album we described thus …
“A new Shriekback album isn’t merely a chance to revel in some wholly original music; it is also a journey through some great lyrical landscapes. Here they seem meander between analogies of the modern world and darker futuristic predictions; that travel from looking for “an echo of a Bowie tune” in Berlin to a new world that lies beyond a Metropolis described in a Clockwork Orange style language of their own invention. A world inhabited with characters in equal measure Beat movement bit part, mythical being and William Gibson lowlife.”
Full album review can be found HERE
A new Shriekback album isn’t merely a chance to revel in some wholly original music; it is also a journey through some great lyrical landscapes. Here they seem meander between analogies of the modern world and darker futuristic predictions; that travel from looking for “an echo of a Bowie tune” in Berlin to a new world that lies beyond a Metropolis described in a Clockwork Orange style language of their own invention. A world inhabited with characters in equal measure Beat movement bit part, mythical being and William Gibson lowlife.
And if unravelling Shriekback’s lyrical world is a mesmerising undertaking, musically they offer just as many twists and turns. The opening salvo, Now Those Days Are Gone goes some way to inform what follows, a sideswipe of nostalgia wrapped up in a sound reminiscent of its subject matter, the era that spawned the band, for in a way that evocative backward glance as you fall headlong into an unknown future lies at the heart of the album. Songs as Post-It notes from the edge? Perhaps. “Mining For Meaning in a House of Song?” Definitely.
But rather than revel in the big song, as usual they take a more interesting path, often a neurotic and bleakly intense one built of hypnotic rhythms, dense, almost claustrophobic textures and subdued vibes. It’s an approach that helps the lyrics stay in the foreground, an equal billing with the music that they certainly deserve. The overall result is an album that is dystopian, soul searching and sparking with brilliant ideas, subdued without being melancholic, intelligent without being pretentious and there are not many other bands I could imagine getting those elements so perfectly balanced.
Clichés can be useful tools, some of them anyway. For example, good things come to he who waits and quality over quantity are both very apt when talking about Shriekbacks’ album releases. And armed with such overused utterances we are ready to welcome their 12th studio album, Life in The Loading Bay.
Shriekbacks’ selling point has always been their penchant for alchemizing any and every musical style that takes their fancy, taking base music and turning it into pure gold and lyrically coming at you like the philosophers stoned. This album sees original singer-guitarist Carl Marsh back in Barry Andrews fluid musical gang, add to that Stuart Rowe mixing the whole affair and the results are exactly what you would expect…the unexpected. Well, fairly unexpected anyway. The familiar, big blocks of angular upbeats are still present on Make it Mauve, Now I Wanna Go Home and the warped Celtic disco that is Pointless Rivers, but it is the smoother washes that lay between them that really make this album special.
Opening salvo, Dreamlife of Dogs, illustrates this point nicely, it’s lilting, melancholy groove and offbeat psychology enticing you in before the album builds up to it’s more obvious musical left hooks. Like an opposing bookend it bows out with the chilled, robotic beats and world-weary reflections of Simpler Machines, aimed at all those people who long for the less technologically complex days of their youth.
It’s reassuring also to hear that in this lyrically vacuous age, there are still some people able to produce songs that force you to think. Beyond the often seemingly strange subject matter is a depth charge of warped wisdom that analogises with some of the big subjects of everyday life. It’s a difficult album to sum up in sound bites or snapshots due to the endless variety from one song to the next and as track-by-track reviews normally read like a high school English assignment, you are just going to have to buy the album. You will not regret it.