The Soundboard Stereo – October 2019

Album release season hasn’t let up this month, and while the signs of the traditional winter slowdown do seem to be coming in effect soon, October has once again been inundated with new music of extremely varying qualities. It’s not surprising; list season is on the horizon, and this tends to be the final push that most acts have at solidifying those all-important slots that will see their output last beyond the year’s end. Of course, that’s still a couple of months away, and in the meantime, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo in October…

Four Year Strong – Enemy Of The World

There’s been a notable downswing in the reception to Four Year Strong lately, partly because they’ve been kind of quiet in recent years, but with material that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, it’s easy to get the impression of a band on the wane coming to the end of their run. It’s worth hoping that isn’t the case, especially when for the sort of burly, on-steroids pop-punk they deliver at their best, Four Year Strong really do excel in ways like few others. Rise Or Die Trying is the one that’s often singled out, but Enemy Of The World stands out as the moment where everything crystallised for Four Year Strong, and the potential for this band to become something world-beating shone even brighter. Big singles like It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now and Wasting Time (Eternal Summer) remain as concentrated as examples come with gigantic riffs and the excellent interweaving vocals of Dan O’Connor and Alan Day, but the classic flair to the likes of This Body Pays The Bill$ and Flannel Is The Color Of My Energy remains potent even close to a decade later, especially with a mix that has real punch and can work with its synthetic elements and unashamed polish without sullying itself like so much boring modern pop-punk has. Even today, Enemy Of The World remains one of the brightest spots within the genre’s modern incarnation, and even if its older brother still gets most of the credit, Four Year Strong haven’t so much hit the sweet spot with this one as much as they’ve utterly demolished it. • LN

Choice picks: It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now, Flannel Is The Color Of My Energy, Nineteen With Neck Tatz

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

Music careers can truly be plagued by a successful album – for all the opportunities a release doing well can bring, it can be super difficult to live up to expectations, particularly if things are changed up sonically. This hypothetical is a reality for Two Door Cinema Club, who may have had positivity thrown at them for much of their career, but reaction has been much more muted for every record after their debut, Tourist History. Tourist History is such a heralded moment for modern indie music, and the vibe, consistency and sheer amount of total bangers on it all demonstrate why that is. At just 32 minutes, it’s a succinct yet purely euphoric stretch of guitars that swirl in the air, ricochet around the room and cascade up and down the fretboard, vocals from Alex Trimble that command but remain sweet and song frameworks that are catchy but creative enough to be impressed by. Every indie band has more intense club night bangers designed for crowds to get sweaty to (on this record I Can Talk, Undercover Martyn and Cigarettes In The Theatre fit the bill nicely), but a gorgeous niche Two Door are also a dab hand at are dreamy, sunny tracks like Eat That Up, It’s Good For You and Something Good Can Work. Tourist History represents a somewhat wholesome corner of indie whose boots no one since has really been able to fill (be it copycats or Two Door Cinema Club themselves), and it’s likely to remain an untouchable entity when it comes to this era of music. • GJ

Choice picks: Something Good Can Work, Undercover Martyn, Eat That Up, It’s Good For You

Zac Brown Band – Greatest Hits So Far…

So the Zac Brown Band recently released The Owl, and while there’ll be plenty to say about that come list season in a couple months’ time, it’s worth remembering that there is still a good band in there. Though far from just a singles band with some genuinely fantastic albums within modern country under their belt, this greatest hits compilation is where a lot of those fantastic moments have been collated in a way that fully shows exactly why the Zac Brown Band are as good they are. The solemn, detailled songwriting and gorgeously organic instrumentation on tracks like Highway 20 Ride and Colder Weather are stunning, and while the moments of levity that colour a good deal of this collection with big singles like Chicken Fried and Toes can feel slightly more disposable by comparison, Brown’s warm, approachable voice and generally affable demeanour throughout elevate them beyond mere fodder and into territory that feels more embracing of the camaraderie and fun of classic country that modern forms really can seem to lack. As a jumping-off point into the Zac Brown Band’s work, this is arguably the best shot, especially in the number of high points throughout their career that are collected on this one album. They’re far higher than anything they’re doing right now at least, but again, we’ll get to that in time. • LN

Choice picks: Colder Weather, As She’s Walking Away, Highway 20 Ride

Christine And The Queens – Chaleur Humain

Why is pop in such good shape in 2019? Artists becoming less bound by genre and more fearless in their blendings of sound with their own talents and personalities is resulting in more unique offerings than ever, and few feel more representative of the late 2010s than Christine and the Queens, the project of Héloïse Letissier who is miles away from your traditional pop starlet (a box some music media were desperate to stuff her into at the beginning of her career). Her voice is a smooth murmur rather than a sparkling Katy Perry or belting Ariana Grande, decorated by uber-danceable drum patterns, simple electronic chimes and subtle musical builds. Everything from the production to the vocal patterns are sleek and polished, with everything being 100% sold by Letissier from the get-go. Her lyrics (which often address her gender fluidity) can flip from stark and vulnerable to dripping in razor-sharp wit be they sang in English or her native French. Single Tilted is the most mainstream-leaning track here and among the most memorable and likable, but the glimmering synth chimes under the likes of Narcissus Is Back and iT’s slinky melodies illustrate that this album is a grower, a collection of songs that work their way under your skin and seep their way into your brain rather than getting stuck there on instant impact. Chaleur Humaine remains a solid body of work from one of pop’s most interesting artists, one who’s sure to be an unrecognisable incarnation of themselves in a few album cycles’ time. • GJ

Choice picks: iT, Tilted, Science Fiction

Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down

While Candy Hearts’ All The Ways You Let Me Down doesn’t find itself on the most regular rotation here (the most recent spins were actually for a collaboration piece on What’s So Special About Music Anyways?), it’s always a joy when the time comes around. They really were a band ahead of their time as far as tapping into the quirky yet immediately rich and catchy indie-pop-punk scene, with this debut album being the sort of concentrated, unfettered wonderful that’s such a rarity to find in modern music, let alone for a first go around. Mariel Loveland definitely has what’s become the rather standard voice for this sort of sound, but there’s far greater depth and layers to her performance here, as sadness and real pathos bleed through against some of the best pop-rock the 21st Century has seen in any capacity. What’s more, there’s really no filler here at all, and everything is so tight and well-produced that the 35-minute runtime feels even more impactful and concise than it already is. There’s not enough good things to say about this album that simply listening to it won’t make immediately apparant; Candy Hearts are the epitome of a band gone far too soon, but at least they left one absolute gem of an album before they did. • LN

Choice picks: The Dream’s Not Dead, Brooklyn Bridge, Michigan

Every Avenue – Picture Perfect

Did you even grow up listening to 2000s rock music if you don’t have a list of broken-up bands you’d sell vital organs to see reunite? The end of last year saw Every Avenue quietly announce a handful of shows – their first since their hiatus began in 2012 – and a small group of fans scrambled to listen to Picture Perfect, the album that was the quintet’s real breakthrough. Biggest single Tell Me I’m A Wreck is probably the most attractive draw to this album, but there are plenty of other tracks that provide the same chorus-belting rush that anthems like Ocean Avenue or Check Yes Juliet do. No, this isn’t a genre or era that has aged particularly well, and on this album the cheesy rom-com plot that makes up Mindset’s lyrics or the slut-shaming that runs through a few songs doesn’t exactly disprove that fact. But the highlights here are what put Every Avenue among the most underrated bands of the pop-rock crop – Finish What You Started’s vigour makes a toxic relationship sound almost cheerful and Happy The Hard Way is one of the best ballads of its kind. The idea of new material from a band who are so tied to their original era could go either way (if music in this period of Every Avenue’s career is even on the cards), but as long as they add spades of whatever it is that gets Girl Like That stuck in your head for days, it surely shouldn’t go too badly. • GJ

Choice picks: Tell Me I’m A Wreck, Picture Perfect, Finish What You Started

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

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