The Soundboard Stereo – March 2018

On the whole, March has been mixed to positive in terms of new releases; some have been great, some have been the complete opposite, but most have seemed to edge towards the upper end of the scale regardless. At first glance, April seems to be a bit more uncertain, particularly with the number of acts making a return after a few years, but if the last few months have revealed anything, it’s that surprises are always capable of happening. Before that though, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo this month…

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Other than The Libertines, it’s hard to think of a single band who have had a greater impact on modern British indie than the Arctic Monkeys. Unlike The Libertines however, the Arctic Monkeys aren’t utterly god-awful, with a precociousness that was always there given how well their debut holds up today. Putting aside the total farce that so much of their diehard fanbase and the media circus around them has become, Whatever People Say I Am… was the album that every faceless street-boy indie band that followed wanted to make, reveling in a louche moodiness that exuded from Alex Turner’s lyrics, dissecting every experience of a teenager in the mid-2000s with wit and incisiveness far beyond his years. It certainly says a lot that I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and When The Sun Goes Down have remained indie staples ever since, and it’s doubtful that the Arctic Monkeys would have reached their superstar status with a string of consistent diminishing returns under their belts if it wasn’t for this album. Even people who don’t like indie music or the Arctic Monkeys still appreciate how important of an album this is. • LN

Choice picks: Fake Tales Of San Francisco, Mardy Bum, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor

Diplo – California 

Between solo releases, Major Lazer and Jack Ü, his collective with Skrillex, Diplo is undoubtedly one of the most successful EDM producers out there. On his new EP California, released earlier this month, he’s much more subdued than both his fellow DJs and his own back catalogue, encouraging heavy focus on drumbeats with a more hip-hop-based approach. The featured artists are unintelligible from each other from the most part, and their deliveries on the whole are where this release really falls down. Some songs have glimmers of hope – Lil Yachty’s optimistic hook on Worry No More is catchy as hell, and MØ gives a characteristically strong performance on Get It Right, the only traditional club song on the EP. The only real winner in the tracklist is Color Blind, which blends Lil Xan’s beautifully spaced-out vocal with a chilled, rolling drop. Desiigner’s mumble-rap contribution on Suicidal is the biggest waste of time, and everything else is completely immemorable. The experimentation in the concept of California is admirable, but in terms of the actual songs, it doesn’t land. • GJ

Choice picks: Color Blind, Get It Right, Worry No More

Various Artists – The Greatest Showman OST

Somehow The Greatest Showman has managed to make a worldwide family phenomenon from the story of a notoriously exploitative huckster, and while a fresh-faced pair of leading men in Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron won’t have hurt its success, the main draw has been its soundtrack, but really, even that isn’t much to write home about as a collection of pithy show tunes and glitzy ballads. And while enough has been said about its biggest hit This Is Me for inspiring self-love and individualism despite the fact that barely any of the performing cast are given no character arc to speak of (not to mention extra salt in the wound at being credited as simply The Greatest Showman Ensemble), it’s all fine enough in a vacuum. There’s not a particularly weak link among the cast vocally, and even if defaulting to sanitised modern pop tropes, there’s enough brash bluster to be swept up in, particularly the rather impressive duet between Efron and Zendaya on Rewrite The Stars. It’s pretty much a given that this will find favour with a very specific audience above anyone else, but with the swell that’s been built around it, it’s hard not to at least appreciate the appeal that The Greatest Showman has. • LN

Choice picks: Rewrite The Stars, A Million Dreams, The Other Side

Halsey – Badlands

You can say what you want about Halsey (and people do), but she knows how to write a damn good pop song. Her 2015 debut full-length Badlands is the synth-driven wonderland of love, lust and rebellion that’s a perfect picture of the lives of many modern young people. Conducted by the strong personality and unique talent of Halsey herself, it feels more like a diary than the concept album intended, but that doesn’t take away from the strength of what’s here. From the sugary sweet Roman Holiday to the dark, eerie Control, vivid imagery through both metaphoric writing and actual pieces of the artist’s life itself is the driving force, working in tandem with the beautiful electronic backdrop. Yes, New Americana is a cringy pseudo-call to arms and there are numerous weak links, particularly towards the end of the record, but on the whole, Halsey deserves the huge platform she’s earned off the back of Badlands. • GJ

Choice picks: Roman Holiday, Hold Me Down, Colors

Logic – Bobby Tarantino II

For as corny and wince-worthily try-hard as Logic is, and for all the ridicule he gets for being so, he’s at least making an effort. Everybody as an album might have fallen flat but the intention was there, and his anti-suicide song 1-800-273-8255 might have been thuddingly on-the-nose, but in terms of its desired effect, the statistics speak for themselves. But on Bobby Tarantino II, Logic is clearly having more fun this time round, right from the very first moment of the Rick And Morty opening skit to parody his own “woke-boy” image. That doesn’t stop this mixtape from being fairly throwaway though, co-opting some basic trap production (or Marshmello’s overweight future-bass on Everyday) for another lightweight placeholder within Logic’s catalogue. But even for as forgettable as it is, there’s nothing overstepping its boundaries here; even the cloudier jazz-rap of Indica Badu with Wiz Khalifa is likable enough, despite beside slightly left of center from Logic’s usual stomping grounds. At the end of the day though, there’s nothing here to offend, party because very little of it will be remembered in the long terms. It’s worth a listen, but that’s really about it. • LN

Choice picks: Warm It Up, Indica Badu, Wassup

Balance And Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing

Balance And Composure remain one of the most underrated emo bands of the last ten years, and their second album The Things We Think We’re Missing is the best evidence available. A perfect segue between rawer debut Separation and most recent (possibly final) album Light We Made, which wades more into more subdued shoegaze territory, TTWTWM balances the emotiveness and nuances of both release to create a truly potent record. Instrumentally, the dynamic shifts are nothing short of masterful, especially when put into context with the constant of Jon Simmons’ beautifully mellow voice. Cut Me Open sums up this entire concept in its five-and-a-half-minute runtime, ebbing and flowing so the listener is riding a stream-of-consciousness wave that seems inexplicably controlled. Balance And Composure’s have said their most recent US tour was their last despite no official breakup announcement, and if that is indeed the case, their loss will be very much felt by those in the know. Although their entire discography is stellar, it’s a safe bet that this album with be the one on repeat by those in mourning. • GJ

Choice picks: Lost Your Name, Tiny Raindrop, Cut Me Open

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

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