With a new year comes a new load of music, and while January is usually pretty light, particularly in terms of quality, 2019 has come out swinging with some utterly fantastic albums already. Sure, the biggest releases of the year are undoubtedly still on the horizon, but with February looking significantly quieter, it’s good to have plenty of good stuff to start off with. Among all of that though, here’s what else we’ve been listening to this month in the first Soundboard Stereo of 2019…

Biffy Clyro – Opposites

If Biffy Clyro had followed up Only Revolutions with anything less than this, it probably would’ve been seen as a disappointment. That album already showed a band more than ready to thrive on the world stage, and going even bigger was the only viable option to really hammer home how much of a force of nature this band could be. And thus we got Opposites, the enormous double album spanning numerous genres and instrumental inclusions, doling them out between colossal, stadium-ready anthems and weird, off-piste deep cuts, and culminating in a way that feels constantly and quintessentially like Biffy Clyro even to this day. Sure, the bloat can be unavoidable (but what double album doesn’t suffer that problem?), and the second disc can lack the truly fantastic moments of the first in places, but there’s no denying that when Opposites hits, it’s truly unstoppable. It’s no wonder that Sounds Like Balloons and Stingin’ Belle have already been inducted as gold-tier festival anthems with earth-shaking choruses and shapeshifting riffs that pushes what mainstream conventionality is to its true limits, nor is it a surprise that a band whose ballads have towered above the competition for a long time can pen tracks as phenomenal and heart-wrenching as Black Chandelier and Biblical. But then there’s the sizzling, spry horns of Spanish Radio or the delightful power-pop diamond Pocket that’s been so criminally ignored within Biffy’s discography, a fact that shows the lengths and breadths that Opposites takes to simply fill as much of itself as it can, and for as flawed as it is, it’s a modern masterpiece for all the right reasons. • LN

Choice picks: Biblical, Opposite, Stingin’ Belle

Taylor Swift – Red

Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift’s career is a fascinating one to both track and reflect on. Natural as the progression of her sound was, Red sticks out in her discography as the album where things became different. Her current pop persona and past country persona are present in equal measure here, with guitar leading the vast majority of tracks here. Unsurprisingly, pure pop songs like 22, bass-heavy I Knew You Were Trouble and girl-gang breakup anthem We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together were among the singles picked on this cycle, and while they do hint at the increasingly on-the-pulse sound and stadium-headlining ambition that we know Swift for now, Red is guitar-driven and emotional more than anything else. While there is a lot of filler (I Almost Do and The Lucky One being totally flat examples), some of the more traditional tracks sparkle aside from the main buzz-garnering attractions. Driving rock-tinged songs State Of Grace and Holy Ground serve as wide-eyed head rushes, while ballad-leaning cuts like the title track, fan favourite confessional All Too Well and beautiful closer Begin Again really succeed at invoking emotion, be it hope or regret. It’s not a perfect album (perhaps not even in the better half of Swift’s discography), but respectable, and as mentioned earlier, an important chapter in one of the most notable music career evolutions of the last ten years. • GJ

Choice picks: Red, Holy Ground, Begin Again

Issues – Issues

At the minute, Issues are currently clinging on to simple existence for dear life, a fact that, looking back it is, has been a long time coming. When their 2014 debut album was released, however, this was the sound of the future, taking metalcore to a place that could be exciting, cutting edge and ludicrously catchy. As much as the notions of ‘metalcore mixed with R&B’ seem to have radically exaggerated nowadays and it’s an album that suffers as many of the ravages of age as so much electro-metalcore from the time, it’s hard to deny that Tyler Carter and Michael Bohn were a powerful duo, able to take whatever was thrown at them in stride on an album that seemingly leaves nothing off limits. The shadow of nu-metal is draped all over the place (Old Dena is a genuine solo turntable track, for crying out loud), it’s easy to pick out the pop of Late, the punk of Never Lose Your Flames or the gospel choir that still makes Disappear (Remember When) a fantastic closer, simply for the audacity of it all. This is an album that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and when that manifests itself as Carter delivering some of metalcore’s most nimble and expressive verses on Stingray Affliction and Tears On The Runway Pt. 2, they’re moments that stand among the best in the genre’s modern incarnation. Even with Issues being a far cry from this right now, this album still acts as a reminder of what could’ve been, and where a once-great band really hit their peak. • LN

Choice picks: Stingray Affliction, Tears On The Runway Pt. 2, Disappear (Remember When)

Pianos Becomes The Teeth – Keep You

Some of the best records come from career evolutions and sound change-ups, as a few of our chosen artists this month have shown. Pianos Become The Teeth’s turn to the softer side of emo from their previous post-hardcore guise was definitely a change for the better, producing the stunning cult favourite Keep You in 2014. Every musical aspect of the songs flow and blend perfectly – there’s no abrasiveness that came with their old musical style – and they manage to strike a wonderful balance between cavernous and introspective, something nonsensical on paper but stunning when you’re thrown in the middle of it. Being a record where the mood and sonic world created is as much of, if not more of a selling point than actual songs themselves, certain types of music fans would find it easy to criticise for being stagnant or repetitive. The best inclusions here are the more memorable ones, such as Ripple Water Shine, the song with the most kick on the album, or Old Jaw which builds to a stunning climax that’ll leave your heart bleeding and your jaw dropping. While it can be hard to differentiate between songs on the second half of the album that don’t have as many defining characteristics, it’s the mood and sheer beauty of Keep You that has made it a cult classic. • GJ

Choice picks: Ripple Water Shine, April, Old Jaw

The Delines – The Imperial

The January drought is hardly a new phenomenon, and while 2019 has been getting off to an unseasonably quick and strong start, the heavy-hitters still aren’t in full swing just yet. Still, that benefits some of the smaller, more niche releases that probably would struggle to get their start elsewhere, and The Delines’ The Imperial is, without a doubt, the album that has benefited the most from that this year. Especially for modern country, this is the sort of quiet, understated album that isn’t concerned with loud, flashy hooks, but really comes into its own thanks to the worn, weary quality of Amy Boone’s vocals, the expansive slow-burn that sounds simply exquisite from front to back, and the sort of storytelling that’s always done phenomenally well in country, and on tracks like Where Are You Sonny?, feels up there with the best the genre has had to offer in a long time. It certainly won’t be for everyone, especially with how poised and melancholy the overall presentation can be, but give it time, and The Imperial really does exude true beauty and heart, a rarity to such an extent for albums of any genre. • LN

Choice picks: Where Are You Sonny?, Holly The Hustle, The Imperial

Vera Blue – Perennial

The average lifespan of a TV talent show contestant’s career is getting shorter as every year goes by – does anyone know who won The X Factor last year, really? But to anyone constantly disappointed by how dry the reality TV pool is (if anyone like that exists), ex-Voice Australia contestant Celia Pavey is your girl now she’s swapped her folk style for full-on pop and the name on her birth certificate for Vera Blue. Hers has been a super impressive shift, especially for one so major, and though transitioning to a synth-led pop sound isn’t exactly groundbreaking, Blue’s take is hugely engaging. The zest for what she’s doing and conviction in her beautiful voice as she sings lyrics about being confident and heartbreak (the latter making for some stunning ballads) gives heart to a sound that stutters, drops and rings out in a way that could be perceived as quite cold in the wrong hands. Regular Touch and Magazine are just some of the songs here that’ll be buried in your mind after minimal listens. It’s undeniable talent packaged in an oh-so-now and lovable way that has flown undeservedly under the radar – she may be in the early stages of her career, but Vera Blue simply has to be set to take over the world one day. • GJ

Choice picks: First Week, Regular Touch, Lady Powers

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

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