The Soundboard Stereo – November 2018

With things naturally slowing down to a crawl at the end of the year, it’s usually the time to look back on what’s come along over the last year to establish the dreaded year end lists. They’ll be coming soon, but with the final few releases of the year already in the pipeline (as well as taking a look at anything we might have missed from the last few months), there’s still plenty to wring out of 2018. For now though, in the final Soundboard Stereo of the year, here’s what we’ve been listening to throughout November…

PVRIS – White Noise

Once in a blue moon in rock music, a band comes seemingly out of nowhere into the pages of magazines, backed practically unconditionally and set for world domination. In November 2014, that band was PVRIS, having just put out their debut record White Noise. Everything about White Noise fits together so well – the songs, the sound palette, the vibe, the aesthetic – that it’s no wonder the press jumped on such a commodity. That’s not to say that being such a commodity makes PVRIS or White Noise a cold business transaction as so many trendhops in alternative music could be interpreted. It an undoubtedly authentic record which is one of the things that makes White Noise the outstanding record it is. Nothing – from the EDM drop of St Patrick to the introspective guitars on Ghosts feels forced or out of place, and each synth and rasp of Lynn Gunn’s voice contributes to the haunting pessimism that is well and truly brand PVRIS. And looking at the songs themselves, there’s something to love in all of them. Eyelids has a woozy approach to the early days of love, Holy a super-interesting approach to religious responses to homosexuality, and Fire a righteous fireball of anger. It’s an album that’s simple but still sounds fresh even now, and will definitely still be heralded a modern classic to many in a few years’ time. • GJ

Choice picks: Smoke, Holy, Ghosts

While She Sleeps – This Is The Six

While She Sleeps may be one of the UK’s most vital and exciting metal properties nowadays, but back in 2012, they still had everything to prove, something they would proceed to do in spectacular fashion with This Is The Six. Their The North Stands For Nothing EP might have been a solid introduction to what this band could do, blending metalcore with hardcore and rougher strands of traditional metal, but this debut full-length blew all expectations out of the water, a snarling, bloodshot statement of intent from a band who, even back then as exemplified by the stunning Our Courage, Our Cancer, proved to be so much more than just another metalcore band. Despite being bested today by their latest album You Are We, This Is The Six still feels remarkably vital, not only for While She Sleeps as a band but within metal on the whole; the likes of the title track and Be(Lie)ve haven’t aged a day and still come rampaging out of the gate with minimal fuss, and Until The Death is possibly the best example of the melodic streak that would become such an imperative weapon in this band’s arsenal. Looking back now, it’s easy to see where the refinements could’ve and have subsequently been made – it can definitely feel a bit too shaggy and rough around the edges at points with the benefit of hindsight – but it says a lot that, even over half-a-decade later, the core formula and sound remains exactly the same, and While She Sleeps have only leapt from strength to strength because of it. • LN

Choice picks: Our Courage, Our Cancer, Seven Hills, Until The Death

Alt-J – This Is All Yours

‘Mercury Prize winner’ is a label that can spark many preconceptions if you’re a certain type of act – namely the indie-leaning atmospheric ones. And not one band could be as synonymous with that term than Alt-J. They’ve been nominated for the Prize for every one of their three albums, winning for debut An Awesome Wave, a record brimming with variety, thunder and creativity. Follow-up This Is All Yours is a comedown in a few varieties, garnering slightly less commercial success, no Mercury Prize win, and far less songs to brag about. An Awesome Wave proved the band’s ability to really build on a simple idea, crafting songs like Breezeblocks which flowed through movements effortlessly and took a full journey throughout a four-minute runtime. On This Is All Yours, similar songs seem to be the focus, but few of them have the added layers or bombast which made previous offerings so admirable. Sure, The Gospel Of John Hurt or Hunger Of The Pine succeed at their objective, but none of the Nara-titled tracks have any substance to them, Pusher in particular feels wafer-thin, and despite being a brilliant lazy rock song, Left Hand Free sticks out like a sore thumb on this tracklisting purely for having some crunch to it. This album provides context to why Alt-J’s 2017 offering Relaxer was so dull, but is a frustrating listen compared to their much-heralded debut. • GJ

Choice picks: Left Hand Free, Hunger Of The Pine, The Gospel Of John

Within Temptation – The Unforgiving

Comparing The Unforgiving to Within Temptation’s subsequent material makes it startlingly easy to see how they shifted their own direction. With Hydra, the songs still tried to pack in as much symphonic bombast paired with galloping hard rock, but it felt distinctly less widescreen as its predecessor, mostly because it had to. The Unforgiving truly was the pinnacle of Within Temptation’s ambition, not only producing comics and short films to run in tandem with it, but also being by far their most expansive and cinematic album to date. Sure, the big singles like Faster and Sinéad would conform to that typical formula of surging, sweeping metal paired with Sharon den Adel’s exquisite vocal performance (something that following singles would try to replicate but rarely have the same effect), but it’s in its deep cuts where The Unforgiving truly shines, cranking up the drama to borderline ludicrous levels for Fire And Ice and Lost, and bringing out an absolutely remarkable album centrepiece with Iron that easily ranks among Within Temptation’s best songs to date. Yes, it’s unbelievably over-the-top and packs flamboyance in abundance around every corner, but for a band for whom that’s a norm that their career has always rested on, The Resistance feels like the natural height that they’ve never been able to surpass since, and most likely never will. • LN

Choice picks: Iron, Fire And Ice, Faster

Steve Aoki – Neon Future III

For most EDM artists, the throng of guests vocalists brought in on records can often make or break songs. Although Steve Aoki isn’t the most famous DJ out there, he’s offered plenty of interesting collaborations throughout his career. They’re mostly confined to the popular, and alternative acts (albeit not the most out there) like Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park and regularly Rivers Cuomo have all lent their talents to his beats, and while more of the same sonically, new album Neon Future III continues to put forward interesting concoctions. Shockingly, Pretender featuring the horrifying-on-paper duo of Lil Yachty and AJR is a true high point of this album, boasting a genuine likability from both artists in their super-catchy contributions and a drop that ties it all perfectly together. Other standouts include Be Somebody featuring Kiiara, a true anthem of discovering your self-worth, and the Louis Tomlinson-featuring Just Hold On and All Night (the first solo single from Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony), both of with are solid mainstream dance-pop tracks. This is music totally fit for its purpose of being played at huge headline gigs and festival sets, and although the songs with the non-chart-bothering guest vocalists aren’t necessarily great, it’s always interesting to see how someone like Matt Skiba fares outside of his usual musical comfort zone. • GJ

Choice picks: Pretender, Be Somebody, Just Hold On

Blitz Kids – Never Die

A lot of the time, Never Die is a forgotten entry within the Blitz Kids canon, making the supposed transition from spiky, off-kilter math-rock to the smooth, radio-primed pop-rock of The Good Youth feel all the more jarring. This EP was more of an equable middle ground though, and in terms of re-establishing Blitz Kids as a band streamlining their sound but remaining true to the rock ethos of the early 2010s (something which, for the record, would be well and truly sloughed off with The Good Youth), it’s by far their most complete and competent release to date. Ignoring the tappy, overly-prehensile lounge-rock of Wild Hearts which always feels like more of a mess than what it’s worth, this is as straightforward as Britrock gets, and while Warriors and the title track exercise that in the big, verging-on-bland anthems that would become the norm for a few years afterwards, there’s genuine, heartfelt sentiment to Strangers With Memories and Memento Vivé that, as well as having a decent command of imagery in a way that few of their contemporaries could match, easily stand out thanks to an abundance of melody and how well it’s used. A lot of this is pretty simplistic stuff, all things considered, but Never Die was Blitz Kids’ peak at taking it onboard, and while what came after may have somewhat faltered, this EP does still hold up, even today. • LN

Choice picks: Strangers With Memories, Memento Vivé, You’re Dead To Me

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

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