While the statement “Everyone’s got problems” is usually used as a rebuttal to someone who has been complaining too long, it’s also a sentiment worth keeping in mind most of the time. We go about our days, working, sleeping, eating, filling our time with whatever we do and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone does this. And like us, everyone else has problems, worries, woes and troubles to deal with day in and day out. You might sit and mull over how you can’t find anything decent to wear to a party while elsewhere someone else is probably dealing with being made redundant, or being told some devastating, life-changing news. It brings to mind another clichéd sentiment that again rings true, no matter the context: “Someone is always worse off.”
Steffaloo’s Mush debut, Would You Stay, reads like one of those records that make you realise that we’re all humans and we’re going through/have been through turbulent ups and downs in life. Would You Stay is a stitched together collection of songs about heartbreak, lost loves, and what might have been. Its lyrics read like extracts from diaries kept over the year, lamenting over how hard it is to get someone off your mind because they’ve moved on or because you chose not to move on with them. The opening title track spends the first verse asking whether the outcome would have been different between Steffaloo (real name Steph Thomson) and a past relationship had she changed her feelings and attitudes: “If I loved you on your worst day/ If I made you cry/ If I didn’t want to change you/ If I liked you that way,” she questions, like she’s simultaneously singing to that particular person and to no one at all. Come the next verse she’s asking if he’s really so happy with who he has now: “If she would never leave you/ If she made you smile/ If she tried to change you/ If she drove you wild.”
The song sets up the record well, as it spends the next thirty-five minutes iterating sentiments of a similar kind. On “If You Were My Baby” she ponders, “If you were my baby, baby/ The sun would shine brighter/ If you were my baby, baby/ The stars would never die” whereas on “I Would Have Loved You” she confesses to a past lover she would have loved him but “…didn’t know you’d care[d] so much.” They are simple sentiments, and admittedly it does get a tad grating after a while, but at the same time it suits Thomson and the sound she’s fit herself into here. Microphones hiss, guitars go out of tune, makeshift percussion reverberates in background; it’s lovelorn lo-fi.
Thomson isn’t breaking any boundaries here, and while it would be interesting to hear her play with the toybox keyboard melodies more, like that on “I’m Sorry” and “My Heart Beats” and for her to delve deeper into her sadness to fish out a more personal, affecting sentiment, it’s hard to fault her for what she’s created (though the stormy rainclouds on “Lonely Night” are a bit too facile). At Would You Stay’s best, Thomson brings to mind Marissa Nadler (with just a hint of Natasha Khan) and when the guitar shuffles in a likeable manner, the rhythms and melodies evoke Sung Tongs-like acoustics and wriggle their way into your head. And thankfully she never resorts to banal cooing, which would have presumptuous tags of “cute” being justified (what with a name like Steffaloo). Like the cover art, Thomson is a girl lost and ignored in a bustling world, looking back while everyone moves forward. We’ve all got problems and Would You Stay is like a quietly courageous, modest effort to try and deal with them through simple bedroom recordings. It might be one of those records that reads better than it sounds, and it might not be the most striking release you’ll ever hear, but it still feels honest to the core.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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