Let’s Look at the Record: The Infinite

When it comes to bands I like, I’m not much of a completist. Oh sure, in the heady days of Napster I did some digging around (most of which ended in heartbreak) but nothing obsessive…except when it came to Shriekback. I grabbed and held onto everything I could find. During this same period of time the band’s frontman and caretaker, Barry Andrews, was selling CDs containing some hard to find material as well, and I bought those.

This was already a band with a bizarre catalog. Their early work was remixed, renamed, chopped up, and divided across multiple compilation releases that took liberties with song titles and descriptions. (One “unreleased 7″ mix” was, in actuality, the exact version found on the album.) There are even two completely different versions of their second full album, Jam Science, due to a label dispute. So the stuff that had been officially released, along with the stuff that was unofficially released, along with the stuff I had of dubious provenance combined to form a perfect storm of having the same song multiple times with three different names.

This weekend I took a microscope, tweezers, broom, and dustpan to the bunch and went through identifying what I had and cleaning out all the duplicates. I had a lot of help from this page, even with its weird formatting. I now have a handle on all this stuff and eliminated duplicates by not keeping all these compilations intact. There was no need to keep duplicate tracks so I could easily listen to the compilations because I never listen to those compilations as themselves. Except for one.

When I first got The Infinite (in 1986 or so), I didn’t even know it was a compilation, even though it says, “The Best of Shriekback” on it. I really didn’t know anything about the history of the band, or why this was on a weird record label. To me it was just more music from a band I liked, only sounding a little more distant and eerie. I came to regard this as just a straight-up album and I still love it as that. Turns out it’s a mish-mash of remixes and tracks from the band’s first two releases, the Tench EP and Care, with a couple of singles thrown in as well. When I later got my hands on Care and some of these singles (I never owned Tench for reasons explained here) the “new” (to me) songs chafed against the ones I already knew.

I’ve mentioned before its powerful opening combo of “Lined Up” and “Cleartrails”. On Care, where they originate, the version of “Lined Up” is different (better, actually) but the combo is undercut by being followed by “Hapax Legomena”, a weird, quiet(-ish) instrumental that drains some of the energy. On The Infinite it goes into a remix of “Accretions” that keeps the mood going. The whole thing keeps up a dark yet kind of funky beat, all the way to “Working on the Ground”, the only song off this collection, oddly, that made it on to a Cool New Music Tape.

It’s strange that I still like listening to this one. The strongest memories I have of it are from when I was at UNO, and that was one of the most miserable times of my life. You’d think I’d want to stay far away from it. But no, not only do I love it and listen to it as it is, it’s the only one of these compilations I preserved, even though it means duplicate files. The Dancing Years and Priests and Kanibals and even Evolution, the “sequel” to this collection, I never listen to as-is, but as far as I’m concerned, this is every much a Shriekback album as Oil and Gold or Big Night Music.

Also, just look at those guys on the cover!

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