Shuffle Everything – Vol. 5

Everyone likes Screaming Females, or at least I think that’s the general consensus. They won last week with ‘Starve The Beat’ (a live performance, no less). We have a slow week this time – no instant favourites jumping out – but Cocteau Twins finally find a way to hook me with their Beach House-isms, or maybe that should be Cocteau Twins-isms?

Unstoppable – Sia

Sia’s second comeback album, This Is Acting, is brimming with pop excellence. The most unfortunate thing about it was that it came with the unofficial tagline of ‘songs other people rejected’ so it came with the assumption of a compilation. Nevertheless, ‘Unstoppable’ stands among ‘Bird Set Free’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’ (minus the horrific Sean Paul version) as a sign Sia is on top form. She just has a knack for writing the perfect pop song, and has the vocal gymnastics to make a huge song. Have you noticed that every Sia song relies on a massive drum sound? Listen to ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Elastic Heart’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’, it’s definitely noticeable.

Lazy Calm – Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins are a band I always remind myself to get further into, and never actually do. I’ve listened to Treasure, Garlands and what seems like the go-to Cocteau Twins record, Heaven Or Las Vegas, but it’s never properly stuck, which is weird as I can hear one of my favourite bands – Beach House – in them. ‘Lazy Calm’ is a long-ish song that’s all spacey synths, reverb and Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal vocals. It begins in an ambient setting before real magic starts. Cocteau Twins do have their own magic, an atmosphere that’s summed up in the title of this compilation – Stars And Topsoil. It’s both up in space and nestled in the earth at the same time. I’d never heard ‘Lazy Calm’ up until this point, but it’s giving me the temptation to back and explore the band more.

Insight – Joy Division

I distinctly remember hearing Joy Division for the first time. This was back in secondary school, when people were starting to listen to Joy Division and the Smiths and wearing the t-shirts, with that hypnotic front cover that seems parodied and reduced to a stereotype at this point. I also distinctly remember hating Ian Curtis’s voice the first time I heard it. It’s grown on me considerably, and when it comes to ‘Insight’ I can’t imagine any other person attempting those bleak words. The song is a bit of a precursor to New Order with its bright synths that somehow manage to work around Curtis – It turns into a sci-fi fest at one point.

Distance Equals Rate Times Time – Pixies

‘Distance…’ is a fairly standard late-period Pixies song. It’s short, punchy, and the most interesting thing about it is the buried guitar sound that comes along in the chorus. I’m guessing it’s a guitar, I have no idea really. The song is about a terminated television broadcast of the Apollo 12 moon landing, but I don’t think it’s just that. ‘Looking into the sun’ screams Frank Black, several times. Maybe it’s a premonition of Pixies’ breakup – ‘We got to get some beer / We got no atmosphere’. Even the album title – Trompe Le Monde – comes from the phrase Trompe-l’œil, a painting technique where the painter uses realistic painting to create the illusion of three dimensions. I always saw that as Frank Black essentially creating the illusion that Trompe Le Monde was a Pixies album, when Kim Deal’s role was much reduced and the band was on the verge of breakup, and so it was more of his first solo album. Maybe I read into it too much.

Come Back From San Francisco – The Magnetic Fields

Our first repeat album comes from an album that was hard to not repeat, 69 Love Songs. Stephin Merritt is replaced by Shirley Simms on lead vocals and it’s a stripped down guitar song, fitting for such a sad love song. Merritt pleads ‘Come back from San Francisco / And kiss me, I’ve quit smoking’ as he tells himself that his lover doesn’t need him at all, but he needs him. 69 Love Songs has a tendency to have some filler tracks (It’s near-impossible to keep the standard high for 69 songs), and though the instrumentation is bare-boned, the lyrics are just as good as the others, even if it lacks a lot of Merritt’s sarcasm and loads itself with heartfelt pleading instead.

Best Of The Week?

‘Lazy Calm’ surprisingly takes the lead. Prior to ‘Lazy Calm’ I saw Cocteau Twins as a bit of a sleepy dream-pop band, but ‘Lazy Calm’ might be my entrance to them properly. I’ll finish off the rest of the compilation and see where it leads next.

Shuffle Everything – Vol. 4

PJ Harvey came out on top last week with ‘Rid Of Me’ and after a week of pretty intense songs, there’s somewhat of a calmer week if you don’t count the storming ‘Starve The Beat’ by Screaming Females. Beck returns to compete with Blur for best post-breakup wallowing, it’s pretty hard to beat ‘No Distance Left To Run’ but he gives it his best shot, bless him.

Lost Cause – Beck

Sea Change is many people’s Beck album of choice and you can see most of his material since this album as affecting of what we think of Beck now – more of an acoustic singer-songwriter-type than the no-genre-slacker of the 90s. ‘Lost Cause’ is beautiful and sad and summed up in ‘I’m tired of fighting for a lost cause’. He tries to tear himself away from this person he’s broken up with, but their ‘sorry eyes’ and ‘wounds’ make it hard to ignore. I could just listen to the guitars on this track and the way they weave around each other, but the lyrics are front and centre.

Monday Will Never Be The Same – Hüsker Dü

A throwaway track from the full-to-the-brim Zen Arcade, led purely by piano in comparison to the hardcore punk that Hüsker Dü are famous for. In the context of the album I might have been kinder, but when you get thrown a bunch of interlude tracks you’ve got to remember how important the album format is, and how tracks like this can be welcome relief from full-on bands like this. I checked and ‘Newest Industry’ comes before this so maybe it was a good idea to throw in a piano interlude before getting into ‘Whatever’, which for the record is incredible.

Starve The Beat (Live) – Screaming Females

Live At The Hideout is one of my favourite live albums and is just as good as any of Screaming Females’ albums and has the added benefit of compiling some of their greatest songs prior to Rose Mountain together. It’s tragic that Screaming Females still don’t get as much credit as they’re due, seeing as they’re one of the tightest punk rock bands around. They have the bonus of having Marissa Paternoster on guitar and vocals, who works some guitar magic and screams like nobody’s business. The funny thing is how indebted to classic rock it is – listen to those guitar solos – but is imbued with DIY punk that everyone can get behind. Let’s applaud for King Mike for a second, and now let’s move on.

The Hook – Stephen Malkmus

On a completely random note, I found a CD single of ‘Jenny And the Ess Dog’ in my small town charity shop once, and I really wanted to know who in my town was in possession of Stephen Malkmus CD singles. Anyway, this is from the better Malkmus solo album, where he gets to play rock ‘n’ roll without having to attach the Pavement name and has plenty of fun with it. It’s a lovely, catchy pop song if you can ignore the lyrics about Turkish pirates and excruciating forms of torture. Then again, what do you expect from Stephen Malkmus? It’s the same guy that wrote that the Smashing Pumpkins have no function.

Gold Star For Robot Boy – Guided By Voices

still can’t get into Guided By Voices. I just couldn’t get around how short the songs were, and I’m not exactly sure why I have that problem. ‘Gold Star For Robot Boy’ sounds influential, you can hear a million indie rock bands in that song, in the middle of hyper-accessible pop-rock and horrendously lo-fi production. It’s surprising that Guided By Voices never got bigger than they did, especially in the healthy climate of the 90s they excelled in. Talking about gold stars is a fitting theme for Robert Pollard, he was a teacher at an elementary school at the same time as being a musical cult hero. Imagine all those kids telling people years later they got taught by Guided By Voices. I imagine the lessons would be interesting.

Best Of The Week?

‘Starve The Beat’s live rendition is staggering; six minutes of pure unfiltered punk that sings the praises of technical ability as well as a DIY ethic. The mixing is particularly good for a live performance, boosting those guitars way up and letting Marissa Paternoster go all out. The best rock band around?