In music it is so easy to be adulterous to one’s first love; to gather a harem of lustful attractions just as fevered though the one is always the prime affection. For us XTC was and is that irreplaceable ardour but the years obviously have seen hordes of infidelities seducing across a multitude of sounds and styles. One of the earliest sprung from that virgin ardour and one of its former members Barry Andrews. It was Shriekback which following one of its founder’s ear grabbing solo sounds teased with its debut EP, baited with the singles My Spine (Is The Bassline) and Lined Up, and enslaved through their first two albums in Care and Jam Science. Admittedly over the following three and a half decades we have dipped into their creative escapades more than been relentlessly attentive but never shy to explore. That initial hunger for their sound has just been truly re-ignited now though with the release of new album Why Anything? Why This?; one of their finest encounters ever.
Shriekback was formed in 1980 by vocalist/ keyboardist Andrews and ex- Gang Of Four bassist Dave Allen, the pair quickly enlisting guitarist Carl Marsh from Out On Blue Six into the fold. The ear grabbing Tench EP and those aforementioned singles introduced the band’s unique sound which blossomed further upon the 1982 released Care. The next year saw drummer Martyn Barker (King Swamp, Billy Bragg) brought into the band’s line-up with Jam Silence coming in 1984 followed by a move to Arista Records and the release of their acclaimed third album Oil & Gold. The band’s next couple of albums over the subsequent two years or so centred around Andrews with Allen and Barker linking back up with him for the 1992 full-length Sacred City, a release which appeared to be the band’s last breath. They returned though in 2000 with Naked Apes and Pond Life, following it three years later with Having a Moment, the album seeing the band’s original line-up in place again with Barker, and Lu Edmonds alongside. Four more albums over a decade, seeing numerous musicians involved, leads us up to Why Anything? Why This? the band’s 14th studio album coming three years after its predecessor and what can only be suggested as one of the band’s most compelling adventures.
Around the core prowess and imagination of Andrews, Barker, and Marsh, the album also features bassist Scott Firth of P.i.L and regular Shriekback backing vocalists Wendy and Sarah Partridge. Instantly it had its fingers in ears and appetite, teasing and tempting as opener Shovelheads inserts a heavy infectious lure led by deceptively flirtatious rhythms. The vocals stand just as magnetic upon the strands of sound and words, electronic currents lapping the sizzling threads of guitar as the rhythms continue to throb. It is a great start, an imposing hint of things to come which rather than hungrily infesting ears and imagination inescapably nags them.
The band’s latest single And The Rain follows, a virulent slice of dark rock with atmospheric seduction and manipulative rhythmic shadows. It is a tenebrific contagion matched in voice and word; an intrigue loaded proposal getting under the skin like Tone on Tails meeting The Filthy Tongues. The track is superb, drama and deviously catchy enterprise colluding in dark temptation before the equally tantalising Catmandu preens its own darkly nurtured theatre with melodic elegance and revelry amidst electronic and rhythmic devilment.
Such, Such Are The Joys is a serene yet tenacious funk ‘n’ roll croon, its slow swing hypnotic to hips and darksome air pure intimation to the imagination only aided by lyrics, tone, and the siren call of the backing vocals. Pure seduction with the beauty of danger in its lining, the song just bewitched while Wriggle And Drone swiftly showed itself a puppeteer with its rhythmic suggestion and percussive scenery alone. The song took us back to those early tracks of the band which had us hook, line and sinker; infusing that instinctive bait with fresh ingenuity.
Next up The Painter Paints is just poetry from start to finish in sound and lyrical invention, conjuring just as its protagonists might with every fibre, its captivation more than matched by the brooding post punk kissed sway and raw dark folk balladry of Useless Treasure. Even so, their major allure is only eclipsed by the album’s final trio; each creative alchemy.
The Church Of The Louder Light is first, rising from distant mists with vocal enticement and in turn rhythmic and sonic flirtation. Its hearty roar grows from a simmer to full voice in no time, its spirit and passion uncaged to inspire the same in the listener. It is a glorious trespass which after a momentary breath just returns bigger and bolder and more influential as Sons Of The Dirt also shows itself to be, it too building its energy and infection with increasing boisterousness as its predacious rock ‘n’ roll sizzles and blazes.
The album concludes with Thirty Seven, our favourite moment within Why Anything? Why This? with its gothic glaze over dark folk intimation and post/garage punk drama. The track is simply total fascination, aural witchery as seductively claustrophobic as it is mercurially radiant.
Since day one Shriekback has been pretty much a magnet for our ears, as for so many others, and to high praise from fans and media alike; perpetually a source of captivation but it is hard to say they have been any more compelling and essential than right now with Why Anything? Why This?.
Why Anything? Why This? is out now across most digital stores and @ https://www.shriekback.com/store
Pete RingMaster 28/05/2018
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