The Soundboard Stereo – April 2018

So any notion that April would be remotely quiet or uneventful was swiftly put to bed with the torrent of new releases of all shapes and sizes, and running through the entire breadth of the quality scale. By comparison, May seems to be a little more reasonable, but considering what’s just around the corner is a handful of the biggest and most anticipated releases of the year, there will be talking points regardless. For now though, here’s what else has been on The Soundboard Stereo this month…

Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy

She’s been a gang member, a stripper and a reality star, and now the world’s new favourite rapper. Debut album Invasion Of Privacy establishes Cardi B as one of the most fascinating artists in hip-hop right now. Everything on this record radiates a sense of intimidation, whether it’s warning a boyfriend not to mess her around or straight-up peacocking straight in the direction of rivals or critics, and it makes every song ooze character. And it’s this character that’s automatically what you want to delve into as the listener. Guest stars are a tad overused on Invasion Of Privacy, taking away from Cardi herself. Some are fantastic (see Kehlani’s feature on Ring) but for the most part, cuts like Get Up 10, Bickenhead and the still-unwavering gut-punch that is Bodak Yellow are by far the better parts here. With flows that could slit a throat, an almost maniacal sense of ridiculousness and absolute zingers of one-liners scattered throughout, Invasion Of Privacy has already propelled Cardi to the top tiers of modern rap. • GJ

Choice picks: Bickenhead, Bodak Yellow, Ring 

BTS – Face Yourself

It’s no surprise that BTS are the genuine, legitimate phenomenon that they are, particularly considering the numerous corners of the internet monopolised by K-pop stans willing to praise their idols as much as possible and come across as the most obnoxious humans imaginable to literally everyone else. Apparently BTS are the most popular of all the boybands too, so going into Face Yourself – mostly a collection of their Japanese-language tracks – you’d half expect to be absolutely blown away by the most incredible, groundbreaking pop music possible. And this isn’t that, but this is still a good listen, so much so that it’s almost possible to see where so much of the fervour comes from. For one, this is about as tightly-crafted and cleanly-produced as pop gets, both in terms of the glossy, hyper-contemporary instrumentation and the interplay between the group’s seven members. And across the half-dozen styles they flit between, that perfectionism stays consistent, from the laser-crafted EDM of Best Of Me and DNA, to the rougher hip-hop crunch of MIC Drop, to the fantastically opulent power-balladry of Crystal Snow. This isn’t plastic, disposable pop either; there’s an expensive, futuristic glimmer to many of these instrumentals, and there’s not a weak link among the vocally, playing to very expressive, boyish tones that are delivered with some real passion when they need to be. There’s nothing so mindblowing that it justifies just how enormous BTS have already become and are still getting, but at least something about the hype is justified; that’s more than can be said for plenty of other acts. • LN

Choice picks: Crystal Snow, Best Of Me, MIC Drop

Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else

The past five years have seen mainstream music totally embrace the term ‘pop’, with the genre and indie being a particularly delectable mix. Brighton quintet Fickle Friends have become one of the most appealing indie-pop acts around, even more so with the release of their debut album You Are Someone Else last month. It’s a record completely tailor-made for sunny days, led by saccharine synths and funk-riddled guitar lines. Natassja Shiner’s pretty, laidback vocal acts as the gearstick to the record, guiding us through various degrees of youthful euphoria, whether it’s delivered in the hazy In My Head or punchy Glue. A small criticism is perhaps slightly too many songs in the tracklisting, but they all emit the same buoyancy and top-down vibe to carry the enjoyment factor right through any slumps. You Are Someone Else is the perfect warm mood album, and it’s more than likely to be getting more spins as the April showers (hopefully) fade away in the coming weeks. • GJ

Choice picks: Wake Me Up, Swim, Brooklyn

Florida Georgia Line – Anything Goes

For anyone who isn’t au fait with modern country, there was a point where Florida Georgia Line essentially epitomised everything that this historically confessional, rustic genre had become, namely meat-headed bros downing beer, ogling various composites of tanned, blonde-haired women, and generally parading around in their trucks in a perennial summer with nary a care in the world. It honestly couldn’t get much stupider, but turn off any semblance of brain function and there’s actually fun to be had here. That does come with sizable caveat that this is even remotely bearable on a technical level, with twanging banjos, blaring rock guitars and hip-hop beats crushed through the impenetrably shiny production, with just enough room for Tyler Hubbard’s almost cartoonishly exaggerated vocals to be drizzled over the result. It admittedly doesn’t sound great on paper, and a tolerance for some laughably stupid lyricism is needed in high excess before going into this, but it’d be wrong to say that the likes of the title track and Sun Daze aren’t at least somewhat enjoyable, particularly in the right weather and with the right alcohol content on hand. Elsewhere, Sippin’ On Fire and Smoke do broad, emotion-soaked balladry well enough, and Confession even brings some quiet introspection into the equation with some wide open space to really swell as the best song here. It’s most certainly not for everyone, but it’s hard to deny that Florida Georgia Line have appeal, no matter how fleeting it is. • LN

Choice picks: Confession, Sippin’ On Fire, Anything Goes

Zedd – True Colors

Zedd has proved time and time again that he has something of a knack for radio dance – look at hits Clarity, Stay The Night and more recently Stay. But on his sophomore album True Colors, the EDM maestro shows an aptitude for more than just chart climbers. Songs like the more introspective Papercut or Illusion, along with bonafide club banger Bumble Bee are far from what you’d expect from Zedd, but they’re still pulled off with the same amount of finesse as stellar radio hits like I Want You To Know (featuring Selena Gomez). Brilliant as the highlights are themselves, their quality is really enhanced by the lesser inclusions here. The common thread between the more forgettable tracks is the diversion away from Zedd’s own talents. Both songs featuring (uncredited) vocals from Julia Michaels point the focus directly onto her despite her average contribution, with the same going for X Ambassadors and Logic on Transmission. Behind the mask of catchiness the more radio-friendly cuts wear, Zedd himself is the main event on True Colors (something often absent from albums by producers); Papercut and I Want You To Know both feature very different, but equally exceptional production. The title track’s complete reinvention with Kesha (amended after the album’s release) shows Zedd’s eye for a story and a voice in action, and if this, along with whatever stroke of genius created The Middle, is applied more to his overdue next album then it is absolutely sure to be a winner. • GJ

Choice picks: Addicted To A Memory, I Want You To Know, Papercut

Portugal. The Man – Woodstock

So with Feel It Still being a worldwide smash for the best part of year, the logical thing to ask would be why we haven’t heard anything more from Portugal. The Man. After all, they’ve been indie stalwarts for almost a decade-and-a-half now, and surely there’s at least something on their most recent album that can serve as a suitable follow-up to their ubiquitous hit, right? Well, Woodstock as an album proves why that next hit has been a long time coming, because it sure isn’t here. Other than Feel It Still’s quirky, rubbery strut (and a couple of other tracks that emulate it but not quite as well), this is beyond forgettable and really doesn’t do a band with as storied a back catalogue as this justice. Dull, languid psychedelia jostles with run-of-the-mill indie-pop in what isn’t necessarily a bad merging, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of size or spectacle, more so a band running on autopilot. The likes of Easy Tiger and Rich Friends provide some glimmers of light elsewhere, but they’re definitely in the minority in this disappointingly faceless effort. If you wanted to stick with Feel It Still only for now, that’s not a bad option. • LN

Choice picks: Feel It Still, Rich Friends, Easy Tiger

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

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