The Soundboard Stereo – November 2017

So November’s been…eventful. It’s just a shame that the number of shameful allegations made towards numerous high-profile bands has been the dominant musical event this month, particularly since the usual slowdown of the year has begun to come in full force. In what will likely be the final Soundboard Stereo of 2017 – seeing as the ever-difficult process of year end lists will be the main focus next month, with this year’s being especially difficult – here’s what we’ve been listening to this month…

Taylor Swift – reputation

Looking at the singles preceding Taylor Swift’s sixth album reputation, it’s easy to see why critical excitement for the release date wasn’t exactly at breaking point. For her fans, though, theorising about possible overarching album concepts based on Easter eggs in the Look What You Made Me Do music video and spurred on by social media likes from Swift herself, seemingly confirming several theories, meant the exact opposite. The album itself is something of a frustrating listen in terms of any promising concepts brought up prior to its release, as it doesn’t seem to fit many, if any, and if it does, Swift shows no signs of telling. Musically, reputation is her biggest evolution yet, and the fifteen tracks are probably the most diverse and self-aware collection she’s ever put out. Look What You Made Me Do is still terrible, the instrumentation of Gorgeous still sounds like a fourteen-year-old could’ve written it in their bedroom and songs like Dress are definite experimental missteps. But for the most part, even though it’s easy to pick out an individual aspect in each that you don’t like or doesn’t fit, the rest of reputation is filled with solid pop tunes. I Did Something Bad and Don’t Blame Me, two of the absolute strongest tracks, are helmed by a darker, less innocent Swift, while play with synths and vocoders is rife among the rest of the tracklist. It’s nowhere near her best album and may take a while to get into, but love her or hate her, Taylor Swift’s new direction is making for pretty good pop music. • GJ

Choice picks: I Did Something Bad, Don’t Blame Me, Delicate

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll

As much as the lead-up to M A N I A has shown that Fall Out Boy have literally no idea what they’re doing anymore, there was actually a time when their shift to poppier climes could produce genuine quality. Save Rock And Roll is a prime example of that, and while any objective criticism may have been swallowed up at the time by an unexpected end to the band’s hiatus, it still manages to hold up today, purely because it’s exactly what Fall Out Boy would’ve sounded like in 2013 even without the break. The theatricality and embrace of poppier tones prevelant on Folie À Deux return, but set amongst electronic backdrops that may loom over more traditional pop-rock but rarely overshadow it completely. The result is an album that feels more like Fall Out Boy than any of their post-hiatus work, buoyed once again by Pete Wentz’s planet-sized ego via some unashamed trolling of the audience of whom so many would ultimately become alienated. Guest appearances from Foxes and Big Sean are thrown in with reckless abandon, instrumental flourishes flicker from pounding electronic beats to airy, pseudo-dubstep drops, and yet this not only feels like a Fall Out Boy album overall, but perhaps one of their most important. Considering what would eventually follow, this doesn’t really seem all that bad, does it? • LN

Choice picks: Where Did The Party Go?, The Mighty Fall, Just One Yesterday

The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

The Wonder Years have long had the most dedicated fanbase in pop punk, and a quick glance over their discography will explain why. Their toeing the line of pop punk and emo makes for epic catchy choruses, beautifully poetic choruses courtesy of Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell and a zeal running through absolutely everything they do that makes every emotion channelled into their records more potent than any other band could ever attempt to immortalise. Their magnum opus is still The Greatest Generation, an album that balances the raw emotions and brutal honesty that come with their diary-like feel, with pure anthemic euphoria. Take Passing Through A Screen Door or The Devil In My Bloodstream, both songs that build to a heart-bursting climax that demonstrates the height of The Wonder Years’ songwriting excellence. The Greatest Generation immerses us in topics like mid-life crises, teenage parenthood and the death of a friend and leaves us feeling like we’re experiencing them as Soupy (or those close to him) did. Not to mention I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral, perhaps the best album closer in recent years, drawing on songs that preceded it in its seven-and-a-half minutes to turn it into a full-on pop-punk musical-esque epic. They’re not the first band to do what they do, of course, and they won’t be the last, but something about their way that feels undeniably special, particularly on The Greatest Generation, which has surely become a modern classic in the four years since its release. • GJ

Choice picks: There, There, Dismantling Summer, Teenage Parents

The Menzingers – Rented World

The Menzingers may have taken their melodic alt-punk stylings to near-flawless proportions with this year’s After The Party (expect to see that album return towards the end of the year), but as its predecessor Rented World shows, the quality of that album was certainly no fluke. Though not as highly lauded as their previous effort On The Impossible Past, Rented World is an album that channels everything wonderful about this band into a clear, hugely satisfying package. Openers rarely get better than I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, and the likes of Transient Love and Hearts Unknown throb with distinctly human qualities that so many bands are just unable to grasp. It’s a deceptively simple album that crams so much into such a short space of time, and while The Menzingers with ultimately go on to do far greater things with this ability, Rented World is still an album worth exploring. The fact that The Menzingers have had much better albums than this, and it’s still able to top so many bands’ best is a testament to how special they are. • LN

Choice picks: I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, In Remission, Rodent

SZA – Ctrl

Something sure to be in plenty end-of-year lists this year is Ctrl, the debut album from long-circulating R&B up-and-comer SZA. She released her first EP in 2012, and if waiting such a long time was what it took to make her debut full-length as good as it could have been, then it definitely worked. Huge stars like Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams cameo on Ctrl, but they’re not crutches for SZA to lean on by a long shot. Her voice is slinky and distinctive, and the songs on Ctrl address the complicated nature of relationships in a way not many others tend to do. She discusses sex and cheating in a deeply confessional and refreshingly accurate way; the fluidity of emotions through such complexities, the highs and lows of self-esteem from being tied to such a rollercoaster, the tangled webs of social groups and the roles they play are all integrals themes, and reasons why so many young people following this blueprint of a modern relationship will relate so much to what SZA has to say. Cheesy as it sounds, SZA has the potential to become a real voice of a generation, and Ctrl proves she has more insight than most people to wholeheartedly take on that role. • GJ

Choice picks: Supermodel, Drew Barrymore, Prom

21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin – Without Warning

Yes, it’s overall a blatant approximation of everything trap is in 2017, but it’d be foolish to deny that the collaboration between 21 Savage, Migos’ Offset and super-producer Metro Boomin doesn’t have a sense of menace that the genre really benefits from. What’s perhaps the most surprising is how the much the three benefit from each other; Savage’s dead-eyed intimidation bleeds into some fantastic atmosphere from Metro Boomin’s pitch-black production on tracks like Mad Stalkers and Run Up The Racks, while Offset utterly steals the show on the likes of Ric Flair Drip with a flow that’s far more complex than anyone would’ve previously given him credit for against a beat that takes a bouncier clip and complements him perfectly. It can admittedly be a bit one-note at times (see closer Darth Vader for how that really comes into effect), but this is a far more complete, compelling project than anyone would’ve initially thought, and it deserves to be praised for that. • LN

Choice picks: Ric Flair Drip, Ghostface Killers, Nightmare 

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

Leave a Reply