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.1

One of the great things about streaming is there’s very little to limit an album library. Unlike a physical collection of CDs or vinyl, or even an iTunes library, is that eventually you’ll fill up a shelf, or the space limit. Whilst there might actually be space limitations on playlists, it’s so that you can actually fit a broad spectrum on your streaming service of choice. So we’re shuffling the entire thing. Our library, in its ever-evolving growth and decline, is going to be shuffled at random. The aim of this is to somehow get me to listen to things I’ve stored but never taken the time to listen to, or to explain why Dido’s No Angel is no guilty pleasure. We’ll do five songs at random every week. Good? Good.

Just Like A Baby – Sly And The Family Stone

Great. I have to explain why I haven’t heard this classic album yet. I’ve heard plenty about There’s A Riot Goin’ On, mostly that’s it’s pretty great. ‘Just Like A Baby’ is very funky. It’s like a lost time capsule of funkiness, with a silky guitar solo that has Sly Stone moan over it – like a baby, but it’s the bass that rules the track, just like any funk track should. It pops, but don’t think of it in the way that Flea’s basslines pop. It’s subtle and not overpowering, but it’s always there. Stone sings about crying like a baby when his lover lies to him, inside a ‘little big man’. I honestly can’t tell whether it’s a drum machine or not, but the ‘tinniness’ of it makes me think it is. This was made in 1971, so it’s got to be a fairly early introduction of drum machines, right? I just realised I know very little about drum machines.

Reprise – Grizzly Bear

have heard this before, but I can’t quite remember it. ‘Reprise’ doesn’t stick out like ‘Knife’ or ‘Colorado’ did on Yellow House, but then again this was a fairly quiet album back when Grizzly Bear were a quiet semi-folk band. ‘Reprise’ has grown on me now – look at that repeated like ‘My love’s another kind’. Another kind of what? And in relation to what else? I’m tempted to shout ‘Show yourself’ to Grizzly Bear, but I think it would break their spell. They like their mystery, especially on Yellow House where they do sound like a band singing about hidden corners of houses. Listen to those layers of vocals and banjo. This is when Grizzly Bear sounded a bit like Beach House – especially the start of the song – but then again, I think songs like this are much less obscured than those first couple of Beach House albums. It’s less about a layering of effects and more a layering of instruments without becoming blurry.

Deeper Understanding – Kate Bush

What I’m playing here is the Director’s Cut version that came out in 2011. It’s two minutes longer and arguably not as good as the Sensual World version, which I adore. In a really strange move, Bush adds her son’s vocals onto the chorus with a vocoder, and it doesn’t add much to the song at all, but Bush is fond of her son being part of her work, so there you have it. Generally Director’s Cut was an unusual choice, re-recording many parts of The Sensual World and The Red Shoes that didn’t especially need addressing, but I am fond of the harmonica solo that doesn’t intrude as much as you’d think it would, plus her scrambled vocals at the end are interesting. It turns it into proggy territory, and the back half gets quite hypnotic. Points for keeping the references to ordering computer programmes from catalogues in. I talked about the song’s lyrics a bit in my classic review if you’re interested.

World Love – The Magnetic Fields

I made it through 69 Love Songs once, more out of a morbid curiosity and the idea of a marathon of genre-spanning pop songs appealing to me. ‘World Love’ integrates the spanish flavours that The Magnetic Fields used on 69 Love Songs plenty. I loved how they had so many songs to write and record that the songs were mostly kept short, light and bouncy. Stephin Merritt’s known for his unique sense of humour, but lines like ‘So if you’re feeling low, stuck in some bardo / I, even I know the solution / Love, music, wine and revolution’ isn’t sarcastic at all, even if he’s proposing love and political upheaval is the key is happiness. He might be right.

Nice To Be Out – Stereophonics

You’ll have to bear with me because this album was my childhood. I can still see that bright green cover stuck in a CD case in the glovebox, probably scratched to shit. Saying that, I don’t remember this song at all, so nostalgia can’t be that powerful. It’s not ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ or ‘Have A Nice Day’, but it’s good to remember when Stereophonics were a bit deal, trying to be a bit like the next Oasis and all that. They might not have the classic album or the global singles that Oasis did, but they could write a damn good song. ‘Nice To Be Out’ is an acoustic song with Kelly Jones’s instantly recognisable vocals, where he occasionally cracks up if he holds a note a bit too long, and some really nice glossy pop production. It’s a bit of a bittersweet song, with jokes like ‘I stood where Oswald took his shot / In my opinion there’s a bigger plot’ and then also ‘Sleep to drink or drink to sleep / One more week and we will meet’. This era of Stereophonics is criminally underrated for rock bands.

Best Of The Week?

‘Reprise’, no doubt. Completely head over heels and now desperately want to revisit Yellow House. Let’s all revisit Yellow House right now. Yeah.