Shriekback

I just got all my Shriekback CDs ripped and organized. It was tough work. I have all of their full albums on CD (the ones that have been released on CD, that is) and all of the many, many, compilations they’ve put out. The compilations contain many of the same tracks as the albums and each others, many remixes of tracks that are only slightly different, some remixes of tracks that are labeled as different songs, and so forth. It’s a mess, but I don’t mind going through it for one of my all-time favorite bands.

And yet so few people have heard of them. The people I know who know of them, largely know of them from me. And admittedly, the people I know who know of them aren’t nearly as impressed by them as I am, even the ones who’ve heard more than the disappointing album Go Bang! (featuring the band’s ill-conceived cover of “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band. Shudder.)

If you’ve heard them, the song you’ve probably heard is “Nemesis,” which became a mild dance-hit in the mid-80s. You may have also heard them unawares. Director Michael Mann is a fan of theirs and has used their music in his movies Manhunter and Band of the Hand and twice on “Miami Vice”. (In fact, the only episode of “Miami Vice” I ever saw, I just happened to have it on, and they played “Underwaterboys” by Shriekback.)

I saw them in concert back in 1986. The show was poorly advertised and only a handful of people were in the audience. But the upshot was, everyone in attendance was a diehard fan, and instead of being dismayed by this, the band played like they were playing a private party, even inviting people up on stage to dance (security nixed that idea). It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

Which brings us to the Skinsect story.

The opening band at the Shriekback show was a local group called “Skinsect”. Skinsect, bless their hearts, sucked. I mean really, truly sucked. They were awful. But then Shriekback came on and we were all happy.

Fast-forward to a few months later. My friend Stephen (an equally rabid Shriekback fan who in fact might be the one who introduced me to the band) and I are in the French Quarter, browsing around a record store there (Underground Sounds? I don’t remember.) Stephen is wandering around the shop when my eye catches something on a shelf behind the counter. I was in the midst of collecting as much Shriekback vinyl as I could and there, on the wall, was Tench, the band’s first EP. I had to have it.

I pointed it out to the guy behind the counter, saying something along the lines of “WANT WANT WANT! HOW MUCH?” He kind of rubbed his face. “Hrm,” he said, “I don’t know if I want to sell that, actually. It’s kind of rare.” Hardball, huh? Fine, I can play hardball. “But you seem like a big fan,” he says. Oh yes I am.

“Did you see them at McAlister?” he asks. I sure did. He brightens up. “My band opened for them!”

Oh man, this guy’s in Skinsect.

“Oh yeah,” I say. “Skinsect. You guys were pretty good.” I don’t regret the lie. If I need to like Skinsect to get this EP, I’ll love Skinsect. No price is too dear.

At that very moment Stephen, who has been doodling around in the back of the shop, suddenly yells over to me, “HEY DAVE! THEY GOT SKINSECT TAPES FOR SALE! HA HA HA! SKINSECT! REMEMBER THEM? MAN DID THEY SUCK!”

Needless to say, I have never owned Shriekback’s first EP, Tench, on vinyl.

I did own a lot of other vinyl of theirs, which at some point vanished. I accused my Dad of giving them away, with some other records I didn’t want, to Goodwill, but he denies this is so. If he did, I imagine they’re still sitting at that Goodwill because who the hell else is gonna buy them?

Since then, largely through these messy CD compilations they’ve released, it’s possible for one to reconstruct Tench and the other non-CD album, Care.

Their last full CD, Naked Apes and Pond Life, came out in 2000, but it’s hard to say if they’ve “broken up” or not. The website says there’s a new mini-album available, and every now and then they seem to resurface. So you never know.

I’m not good at describing music, so I don’t know how to tell you what they sound like. It doesn’t help that they can be all over the map at times. Lots of keyboards, but more organic sounds than electronic ones. Lead singer Barry Andrews has a deep, piercing voice (and looks like King Mob from The Invisibles but Grant Morrison denied the connection when I asked him about it.) They can be dancy, dark, moody, and silly. Their earlier stuff especially has a lot of really skippy, active basslines. I don’t know another band to compare them to musically, although I’ve heard some Talking Heads tracks (such as “I Zimbra”) which remind me of them, as well as the song “Woke up this Morning” by A3 (a/k/a Alabama 3), which is the theme song to HBO’s series The Sopranos. If people want to hear some tracks I might post some mp3s, but they’re not hard to find on most file-sharing networks.

I just wanted to send out a bit of love to a band that’s brought me a lot of joy over the years, one that I don’t think got as much attention as it should have.

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4 Responses to Shriekback

  1. Stealthcomic says:

    Dave, I laughed out loud, really. I can imagine the scene at the record store, including Stephen’s joyful dissection of the store owner’s band.

    You introduced me to Shriekback and I have passed them along to others as well. My favorite album is still Big Night Music, which only slightly beats out Oil and Gold. I wish I had been able to go to that concert with you–you have talked about it for years, but never quite with that much detail about what made it so great.

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