Released 1983 on Y
Reviewed by Lugia, 08/03/2004ce

Shriekback: "Care"
Y Records Y LP 502. Recorded and released 1983.

1) Lined Up
2) Cleartrails
3) Hapax Legomena
4) Petulant
5) Lines From the Library
6) Brink of Collapse
7) Sway
8) Into Method
9) Evaporation
10) In: Amongst

Around the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s, two heavyweight bands in the UK had some membership splits. XTC lost their keyboardist, Barry Andrews, and Gang of Four's bassist, Dave Allen, split. Then shortly after (plus after Andrews' stint with Robert Fripp in The League of Gentlemen), they got together with Carl Marsh, and the original lineup of Shriekback was formed.

Lots of people know Shriekback from their association with things such as the "Miami Vice" soundtracks, etc. That Shriekback is a rather slick outfit...hard mid-80s funk sound, strangely portentious lyrics, BIG production values, and so on. Rather commercial, although they didn't totally catch on everywhere, as in the USA, until their final...uh...effort which included a certain KC and the Sunshine Band cover. And also, that Shriekback was a rather different band; by the time they 'sold out' on "Go Bang!", Carl Marsh and Dave Allen had departed, things had switched around quite a bit, and...well...let's just say that the results didn't get my blood pumping.

But let's ignore that for a bit, and instead concentrate on this earlier and rather different work from the original trio plus a few people popping in here and there. On "Care", some of the elements that would go on to characterize "Oil and Gold", "Big Night Music", etc were in formation...but the sound here is stripped-down, very minimal in places. And a strong experimental edge is present...for the last time, pretty much, as the following OFFICIAL releases (there was the whole "Jam Science" debacle, for those who remember it) would show. This second album, appearing on the Pop Group's Y Records label, is a very interesting and...yup...unsung affair.

What we have here is a lot of strange repetition, a reliance on motoric drum-machine patterns, and a washy mix that in places resembles dub and in others some of the more atmospheric aspects of the Factory sound c. 1980-ish. Lyrics are heading in that later-style direction here...with themes of vague ominous portents, conspiratorial hints, and something arcane lurking just over the line in the subconscious realm. It's a rather intellectual sound, really...danceable, to be sure, but at the same time there's really more there.

"Lined Up" was the single off of this, and it's a great piece of work...machine-run, layered with electronic and guitar drones, very hard-edged, lots of interesting vocal layers, and a funky bass underpinning that makes you want to move your feet. But the next track, "Cleartrails", has a more atmospheric feel...spacier, as if we're heading in some very different direction than the party (party?) that that first track vaguely hints at.

And with "Hapax Legomena", we get a look at it. This track consists of almost NOTHING, save for a slow LinnDrum pattern, and a few ambient guitar and synth bits that wash in...and strange mutterings and gaspings, and fragments of barely-recognizable speech (" cold..."). O....kay. No, this is no 80s funk album, nuh-uh. This is going in one strange direction...

"Petulant" is another droning item, almost like a precursor to something such as Seefeel's work or things in that vein. The same multi-vocal layering here, too, as in "Lined Up". The mix also contains more of those...odd...elements, as it sounds like someone's miked a monitor lizard or sax or something very strangely off in the background toward the end. This first side then closes out with "Lines from the Library", which is really menacing, to be honest. The drum-machine just thuds away like some neolithic primitive with an assymetric loop, suited for dancing...but perhaps more as some sort of stomp around a bonfire, not on the club floor. Over this, droning and bzzt-ing electronics, and a call-and-response vocal just add to the ritualistic feel of this. Maybe if Cluster were trying to do covers of something off of PiL's "Flowers of Romance", you'd get this, too. Compelling...but clearly off in a weird area, especially when the animalistic grunts come in toward the end and everything falls apart.

Side 2 kicks off with the appropriately-titled "Brink of Collapse". It really sounds like this just was not some half-busted monument off in a wasteland. It's a very fragmentary, minimal, walking-pace affair...a one-note drone here, hissing and screeching violin snippets there, chanty vocals, more clattery and off-beat drum-machining. builds into something, but as the vocals sing of being "...almost there...", you're wondering where that 'there' is that they're speaking of. It doesn't seem to be a 'here' sort of 'there', y'know?

"Sway", though, is a bit of a look ahead toward the 'next' Shriekback sound...this is, in fact, funky. It's got some fine pop-bass work, and a slow groove that just compels the feet. But getting past the low-end range, we're still in that 'neither here nor there' zone, as little ambient bits pop in and out like things you catch just out of the corner of your eye. Little vocoded scat vocal on one hand, backward piano drift on the other, and that chanty, funky vocal...half singing, half rapping.

"Into Method"...this takes us right back toward "Lined Up", again. Funk, heavy smack-u-round drum machine skitter-slaps, weirdness in the atmosphere, and those vocals just catch in your head and feet and you're on the move. Dance floor? Sure. Some other sort of dance? Could be, could be...but definitely not the slick disco you recognize as Shriekback here. This is the stripped-down model, and it feels good! Damn good, in fact., you have to keep in mind that this is NOT some mere party album, folks. Because right after that is...well, perhaps one of the most ominous and beautiful things I know of, "Evaporation". Beating everyone to the punch on 'ambient dub' by nearly a decade, this short, quiet, atmospheric piece seems to come from that 'definitely not here' place that so much of the album points toward. It's so lush...but sparse...and pretty...but vaguely menacing. The vocals, partly obscured in places by the processing on them, seem to come from place beyond our own conscious if from out of a dream. This is the music that should happen only in sleep or at the end of all things.

Then to dispel the spirits that that amazing track may have called up, "In: Amongst" comes along with layer upon layer of what sounds like primitive bullroarers and such...whirling, whooshing, looping repetitively, sending whatever may have emerged back to whence it came. And then it's all over.

A three-piece at this point, Shriekback would add a drummer after this for "Oil and Gold", beginning shifts both in personnel and toward a more commercial sound that eventually landed them at what many (myself included) consider to be a TOO commercial sound and that cover of "Get Down Tonight" that makes me cringe even when I think about it. Nononooo...that's not what I think of when I think of Shriekback. Instead, it's this, the previous "Tench", and just after on the "Jam Science" quasi-pirate issue and the first two Island albums, with the strange cryptic, hermetic lyrics and stripped-out, butt-moving sound...those are the Shriekback I know and love. Start here, o ye unfamiliar ones...and check it out.

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