Surprisingly enough, September didn’t actually turn out to be the moments the floodgates burst open for new releases; sure, plenty came out, and a handful did turn out pretty great, but it’s been strangely quiet in terms of anything really huge or impactful. October is already guaranteed to be the opposite, however, and even with the early start we’ve managed to get as far as major albums go, there’s plenty left. Before all that though, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo throughout September…

Architects – Daybreaker

Architects have truly created a league of their own in their genre for an entire myriad of reasons. Alongside ever-improving technical musicianship, biting political commentary has become one of the main draws of the band – something that began in 2012 with fifth album Daybreaker. Looking back, this is the album where the Architects of today were really born. Riffs throughout the tracklisting were increasingly complex and impressive compared to their previous four records, songs like These Colours Don’t Run, Truth, Be Told and Even If You Win, You’re Still A Rat display eloquence, conciseness and gut-punching truth when calling out the world’s injustices and corruption, and the balance between melodic and crushing heaviness is expertly done. For every Outsider Heart, there’s a Behind The Throne, every breakdown a pretty motif, and the stunning Unbeliever to close things demonstrates a dexterity not many outfits have when it comes to their craft. They may have advanced to arena levels due to Lost Forever // Lost Together and All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, but Daybreaker is perhaps the most pertinent reason why Architects’ back catalogue shouldn’t be forgotten. • GJ

Choice picks: Alpha Omega, These Colours Don’t Run, Unbeliever

Eminem – Kamikaze

If you would ask anyone besides Eminem, the rollout of Kamikaze has been ill-fated at best and disastrous at worst. And to be fair, this is a better album than Revival on technicality alone; the rock samples are pretty much absent throughout, the clear obsession with big pop crossovers has cleared, and Eminem actually sounds focused and out for blood at both the artists and the critics that derided that last effort. And sure, making this a surprise release to spring upon unsuspecting prey was a good move, but the fact that whole point of this album is simply to volley back at criticism and highlight just how thin-skinned Eminem actually is only paints this more petty than the aggression that’s supposed to be here. It’s hard to deny that tracks like The Ringer and Lucky You are fully playing to his strengths in terms of wordplay, flows and doling out the punches when needed (even if the well-publicised and since-recinded shots against Tyler, The Creator on Fall go way past the mark), but sampling Fack on the title track and making Venom essentially the exact same thing as Eminem’s other pieces of lumpen soundtrack fodder are not good moves in anyone’s books. Plus, Jessie Reyez’ excruciating high notes on Nice Guy may be the single worst vocal performance put on record this year. And really, you get the feeling that, if Eminem wanted to make a truly effective clap-back album, he’d find a way to get around these obvious oversights. But he hasn’t, and all that really shows is that Eminem is hardly the artist he once was. • LN

Choice picks: The Ringer, Lucky You, Not Alike

Panic! At The Disco – Pretty. Odd.

The anomalous record in an artist’s discography more often than not hosts a crazy shift in sound that didn’t quite land, but in Panic! At The Disco’s case, it’s Pretty. Odd., their blandest by far. A sad amount of songs on Pretty. Odd. aren’t memorable at all, and although debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out suffered from a similar (but much more sporadic) issue looking at the bare bones of the tracks, musically it was a sonic rollercoaster which made for some jaw-dropping and genuinely innovative moments. The now-trademark exuberance that’s woven into plenty of modern-day Panic! tracks does emerge at times on Pretty. Odd. – in an almost nursery-rhyme form on Pas De Cheval and fully on classic Nine In The Afternoon, but it’s the sweeter-sounding songs like She’s A Handsome Woman and fan favourite Northern Downpour that have really stuck in listeners’ minds as time has passed. Taking influence from acts like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan is something plenty of acts have done and done well, but when you’re Panic! At The Disco, even singles from this album will be outshined from deep cuts from the rest of your discography. • GJ

Choice picks: Nine In The Afternoon, Northern Downpour, When The Day Met The Night

Hozier – Hozier

When Hozier broke out with Take Me To Church in 2013, there wasn’t a single other artist in the mainstream like him. This wasn’t another James Bay or James Arthur primed and ready to tick every mainstream box with maximum efficiency; rather, Hozier was far deeper and more eloquent, building his haunted, gothic blues songs around multi-layered metaphor and imagery surrounding religion and darkness within the dregs of society. And if that would’ve been a one-off track, it still would’ve been impressive, but the fact that his entire self-titled album managed to build on that foundation is what made this truly special. There’s such an earthiness and darkness in the way that folk and blues influences are contorted, as welling in a sense of true, overbearing numbness in the chain-gang weight of Work Song or the gospel gait of Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene. It all sounds absolutely magnificent, and is surprisingly varied in its approach as well, from the more upbeat blues clatter of Jackie And Wilson to the gentle sway of Someone New to the hollow, echoing fragility of In A Week and Foreigner’s God. It’s not really surprising to see why Hozier didn’t have another enormous hit given just how nuanced so much of his other material was, but this album remains an underrated gem to this day, something that most other “pop” albums from half-a-decade ago can’t match. • LN

Choice picks: Jackie And Wilson, Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene, Work Song

Emma Blackery – Villains

Emma Blackery’s love of alternative music has always been documented on her YouTube channel, and reflected in her discography of EPs released in the last few years. But, like many other artists who broke through with heavy eyeliner and brightly dyed hair, her affections have turned towards pop in the making of debut album Villains, released at the tail-end of August. What makes Villains a great pop album is how realised it is, not just in terms of the music itself, but in terms of concept, lyrics, character and subsequent delivery. Blackery is a brilliant personality, making depictions of not-so-loveable brattishness and impressively honest declarations of vulnerability just as massively likeable as the more positive sides of her personality shown. Musically, many of these songs are a clear product of influence (Petty is more than an ode to Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself and Fake Friends could be a CHVRCHES B-side), but the backstory (explained in depth on Blackery’s YouTube channel) and aforementioned character make everything here seem sparklingly new – and aside from that, they’re so much fun. Marry that with the pure songwriting prowess in both lyrics and hooks (synthwork might not be Grammy-worthy but it more than helps secure ‘earworm’ status for almost every track on here), and you have a real hidden gem in this year’s releases. Any pop fans who dismissed this because of YouTube links should change that immediately. • GJ

Choice picks: Agenda, Petty, Burn The Witch

Set It Off – Cinematics

For anyone who only get into Set It Off off the back of Upside Down, they’d have been greeted to a band at their absolute lowest trying their absolute hardest to slip into throwaway mainstream pop with predictably terrible results. The best course of action would be to work back for the real quality; Duality might have lost a lot of its luster over time but it’s still a really solid pop-rock album, but it’s Cinematics that shines the brightest and shows what Set It Off could’ve potentially been. It’s primarily a case of taking Panic! At The Disco’s theatrical pop template, beefing it up a bit and pretending that Tim Burton arranged it all, leading to songs like Plastic Promises and I’d Rather Drown that aren’t exactly deep, but are so explosive in their flamboyance that it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. And sure, it’s very production-heavy and tracks like Dream Catcher don’t benefit from that in the slightest, but for what’s here, and what Set It Off would go on to become, you’re at least getting your money’s worth from this. • LN

Choice picks: Plastic Promises, I’d Rather Drown, Swan Song

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

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