The Soundboard Stereo – March 2019

After the full-force assault of greatness that January and February proved to be, March has proven to be much slower, both in terms of quality and release volume. That’s not exactly a bad thing, especially given how much has already come out is worthy of a breather, but even then, the likes of The Maine and Periphery have still managed to sneak in a couple of barnstormers that are certainly welcome. As for April, it’s going to be interesting to see what that holds (especially when there looks to be a couple of real disasters on the horizon), but before that, here’s what we’ve had on The Soundboard Stereo this month…

Dave – Psychodrama

Psychodrama was always going to be a big deal. That was obvious when Dave’s debut began picking up serious buzz in the US, something that’s exceedingly rare for UK rappers, and for as ambitious and large-scale as this album was set out to be, initial buzz expected something akin the British equivalent to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, both in weight and execution. Unfortunately that doesn’t quite seem to be the case here, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Indeed, Psychodrama is easily the standout UK hip-hop release of 2019 so far regardless, framed around a therapy session as Dave bares all when it comes to how he views his home (Streatham), his race (Black), the hip-hop scene around him (Environment), and the isolated, honed incidents of violence and abuse that he relays in extensive detail (Lesley). Where it stumbles comes in how that therapy session can feel a bit perfunctory at times considering the sparseness of the spoken interjections to actually relay that fact, and when Dave dips into lighter, more tropical instrumentals like on Location and Voices, it can make those moments feel all the more throwaway. And that’s a real shame too, as not only does Dave have a real knack for to-the-point lyricism that balances vulnerability and shielded catharsis effortlessly, but the focus on softer tones from pianos and strings lends the whole thing an elegance that, compared to the lightness and spareness of many of his UK hip-hop peers, can really hold some tremendous weight. It’s what ultimately makes Psychodrama so tremendously compelling, and even if a couple of duds prevent this from hitting that classic-in-the-making status that so many have already attributed to it, as far as UK hip-hop goes, Dave is currently right at the head of the pack. • LN

Choice picks: Environment, Black, Lesley

My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade

Here’s a fact that might shock you: not every teenager who poured everything they had into the early-2010s transatlantic rock scene counted My Chemical Romance as one of their all-time favourites – in fact, this writer in particular had them completely blacklisted. But as fans and music scenes alike have evolved, theirs is a name that has stuck around, usually with words like ‘iconic’ in tandem. It’s too big and important a legacy for past naysayers to ignore, and upon abandoning past prejudices, it’s hard not to respect The Black Parade for not only capitalising on already-strong traction to spearhead one of the most notable subcultures in alternative music, but for boasting great songs. Generation-defining hit Welcome To The Black Parade might be too on-the-nose in balancing out the grandiosity and punk ethos to be truly standout (apologies pitchfork wielders, but Rome wasn’t built in a day), but the pure raucous joy of Dead! and stadium igniting Famous Last Words and Teenagers not only by themselves, but balanced with the more emotional I Don’t Love You or the gut-punch that is Cancer show a band with depth and realised ideas who absolutely deserved to get to the heights they did. While in 2019 the ship has probably sailed to fall into an adoration those marching against the Daily Mail in 2008 wore firmly on their sleeves and placards, what’s on offer on this album is something that absolutely can’t be denied, something that absolutely won’t be news to most people reading this. • GJ

Choice picks: Dead!, Mama, Teenagers

The Xcerts – There Is Only You

At the minute, straightforward Britrock doesn’t get any better than The Xcerts; they’ve just closed their most successful era to date in fantastic style, and have been consistently reaping the rewards of it across the last eighteen months, something that, in all honesty, has been a long time coming. But it’s worth remembering that The Xcerts have always been a terrific bands, and There Is Only You stands as the perfect reminder of that, if only because this was the moment that saw them hit their previous peak that other bands could only dream of. It’s a bit more rockier and traditional than the juggernaut they would ultimately become on Hold On To Your Heart, but there’s no denying that Live Like This and Shaking In The Water still have the pop verve that sounds utterly enormous through and through, and Pop Song and the title track can still bring that bare emotionality that Murray Macleod’s vocals sell so effortlessly. At the height of Britrock when this album dropped, it should’ve been heralded as the genre hitting a point that was truly transcendent among that scene, yet the fact that it went largely ignored remains the sort of criminal disappointment that can be hard to believe even in hindsight. But with The Xcerts currently threatening their takeover, what better opportunity to rectify that than now? • LN

Choice picks: Kids On Drugs, Pop Song, Kick It

The Aces – When My Heart Felt Volcanic

Many sceptics might well have dismissed this brilliant record from last year as just another well-dressed female-led indie pop project to add to the ever-growing indiscernible pile, and the fact that these girls aren’t as huge as they should be off the back of such a record suggests at least a few listeners may have done just that. But does everything in the upper echelons of a genre have to be sonically flawless, completely innovative or breaking totally new ground to truly deserve such a place? When My Heart Felt Volcanic is one of the best pop-rock records released in the last decade, certainly in the last twelve months. It’s heart-burstingly sunny and danceable, made for warm weather and soundtracking . Lyrically, it’s super earnest and relatable in a way that feels so much more real and likable than so many others in the game, documenting the bitchy girls and flip-flopping relationships that are of such importance in your teens and mid-twenties, but the ’80s pop sheen and motifs that are (perhaps ironically) so vital to the carefree youthful air that is the lifeblood of the entire album. While not exactly depicting the hardest time in a person’s life, it bottles the confusion and insecurity of youth to thirteen tracks that beam and sparkle, and it’s the effortlessness with which they do it that makes When My Heart Felt Volcanic feel like something special. • GJ

Choice picks: Lovin’ Is Bible, Holiday, Stay

Florida Georgia Line – Can’t Say I Ain’t Country

Credit where it’s due – it takes some serious balls to call your album Can’t Say I Ain’t Country while including a collaboration with Jason Derulo and making one of the early singles an approximation of a sexy 2000s R&B slow jam. But then, that’s Florida Georgia Line for you, a band clouded by notions of their own authenticity while continuously moving in a direction that only perpetuates the sterilisation and poppifying on modern country. Because this isn’t a good album, and while that’s so, so easy to see, Florida Georgia Line clearly can’t, such is the reason they’ve chosen to bombard it with interludes that only make them out further as stereotypes of cartoonish hicks, a notion that reaches true fever pitch on Small Town which effectively feels like Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ routine put to music. Of course, it’s not like this isn’t all to be expected – after all, this is the duo that somehow managed to convince pretty much the entire world that Bebe Rexha’s Meant To Be was a country song – but considering how proudly they wear their supposed authenticity, there’s nothing that Florida Georgia Line do or say that can properly justify it. It doesn’t help that the whole thing is just exhausting to get through, but even when they were at their goofiest and mostly shamelessly bro-pandering, they had more about them to enjoy than they did pretty much in this album’s entirety. • LN

Choice picks: Colorado, Simple, Talk You Out Of It

Crosses – Crosses

The most interesting artists are arguably those competent in multiple genres, whether that be shown through material firmly tied to their main monikers or various side-projects created solely for expression purposes. Chino Moreno of Deftones has demonstrated such versatility time and time again, with Crosses standing out the most. Moreno, Far’s Shaun Lopez and Chuck Doom 2014 self-titled album combines dream-pop with electronica and a boost from sprinkled elements of its members’ darker-sounding projects, particularly on the ominous-sounding Trophy and roaring close to Bitches Brew. The production is full-bodied and unbelievably smooth, making for some beautiful euphoric builds (Option and Thholyghst come straight to mind) as well as housing Moreno at his absolute best; these are textures you can truly sink into, anchored by an admirably tight lineup who have pooled their knowledge of melody weaving and careful song crafting to leap well above the bar set. Whispers are circulating about a new Crosses record coming this year, and while there isn’t avid speculation or open expectations, it should be something of quality based on their track record. • GJ

Choice picks: This Is A Trick, Telepathy, Prurient

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

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