Best Album of 2021: Shriekback — 1000 Books

Released to crowdfunders: December 2021

General release: January 2022

Personnel:

  • Barry Andrews: keys and vocals
  • Martyn Barker: drums
  • Carl Marsh: guitar and vocals

Guests:

  • Scott Firth: bass on 2, 3, and 6
  • Wendy and Sarah Partridge: backing vocals

Tracklist:

  1. Space in the Blues
  2. Unholiness
  3. Portobello Head
  4. Slowly at First Then All at Once
  5. Good Disruption
  6. Everything Happens So Much
  7. Different Story
  8. 1000 Different Books
  9. Wild World

“A book read by a thousand people is a thousand different books.”

 Sometimes you hear an album and you like it right from the get-go, and you always like it but it never really gets under the skin. Sometimes you hear an album and you think it’s great, but after a while the urge to hear it disappears and never really returns. And sometimes you hear an album and you think … well, that’s okay. But something makes you return to it. And return to it. And then you realize — this is great, in that sneaky, deep-down long-lasting way, an album you know is not going to wear out its welcome. Such is 1000 Books.

I had been a huge fan of Shriekback back in the day, their Jam Science and Oil and Gold albums being among my very favourite things from the 80s. They had some hits, too: “My Spine is the Bassline”, “All Lined Up” – classic 80s club tracks, as good as anything from back then. But after a while I stopped paying attention even though they had (in one form or another) been sporadically releasing albums over the years. They reappeared on my radar around 2015 with the album Without Real String or Fish (reduced from a quartet to a trio) which I liked well enough to encourage me to continue watching them and buying the (mostly crowd-funded) albums since.

 1000 Books is their 16th album, and it hits on all cylinders. More than any of the other albums over the past few years (for me, anyway), it evokes most strongly the Shrieks of the 80s, in their heyday: that dark new-wave funkiness, bass-heavy and smart as hell (with some of the tastiest drumming I’ve heard in years), updated to the new century with a deep maturity.

There is not a weak song on this album. Starting with the electronic smoothness of “Space in the Blues” with its eerie winding background guitar solo, through the funk of “Unholiness”, to the contemplative distorted lament of “Wild World” we are taken on an immersive, thought-provoking journey, and the production is absolutely outstanding, probably the best I’ve heard for years.

 But more than this. One of the outstanding features of the band has always been the arcane, allusive, and hugely literate lyrics, words that can stand on their own but are actually there in service to the music. A band can count itself lucky if it has one decent lyricist — Shriekback, remarkably, have two: both Carl Marsh and Barry Andrews write lyrics, with equal facility, and the album retains a consistency of vision and feel even though the lyricists are different song to song. They are among the best in the business. (They also share the the vocal job between them).

 1000 Books came along very late in the year, and in fact the actual release to the general public did not happen until January 2022 (although originally meant to happen before
the end of the year), which technically makes it the first new album of 2022 — but to hell with it. This album is SO good that it takes the top spot for 2021. Maybe it will do the same for 2022.

You can preview the album on the band’s music page:

https://shriekback.com/music

 

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