The Soundboard’s Biggest Surprises Of 2019

Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)

5. The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature

While The Dangerous Summer releasing a good album isn’t in itself all that surprising, the circumstances with which Mother Nature arrived this year definitely contributed to it. Following on from a self-titled effort that hinted at a slide into the faceless, nebulous mass that most of emo has become, Mother Nature defied the limitations of its rapid turnaround time to end up as potentially The Dangerous Summer’s best album to date, filled with the richness and power their material has become known for, but emphasised alongside its sense of melody for something really potent. For a band that easily could’ve been written off, Mother Nature was exactly the sort of rebound they needed, and to say that it’s worth getting excited about The Dangerous Summer again is a good thing indeed.

4. John Floreani – sin

To see John Floreani attempt to break away from fronting Trophy Eyes already to embark on a concurrent solo career definitely felt strange this year, if only because such a hit-or-miss practice can yield unpredictable results that don’t really feel in anyone’s best interest at this stage. But sin proved to be a different beast altogether, abandoning the stripped-down acoustic route that these projects tend to adopt for an arms-aloft alt-pop project with just as much depth and confessionalism as his main work. A couple of undeniably excellent moments have only seen this album increase in value over the last few months, but on the whole, sin represents the sort of unexpected pivot that’ll end up being incredibly exciting to keep an eye on over the coming years. It’s rare to say that about a solo project these days, but Floreani’s hitting those marks with consummate ease.

3. Badflower – OK, I’m Sick

The preconceptions towards Badflower are rather simple – another US radio-rock band who, off the strength of one single, have managed to vault to the top of the hype ladder to squat for the foreseeable future with little to back it up. Upon listening to OK, I’m Sick though, it becomes evident just how wrong those claims are. Sure, it’s a bit too preened for its own good, but as far as intent goes, it’s rare, if completely unheard of, to see a band gunning as heavily towards a mainstream space addressing topics like crippling self-loathing, sex addiction and paedophilia in such intense detail. All the bands who believe they’re being deep or transgressive by rattling off basic platitudes pale even more compared to what Badflower are delivering, and with a knack for some interesting, evocative melodic construction on top of all of that, OK, I’m Sick looks to pave a truly exciting path going forward.

2. FIDLAR – Almost Free

In the past, FIDLAR’s material has almost exclusively consisted of garage-rock at its most underwhelming and formulaic, fuzzed-out to the point when an already dire shortage of ideas begin to feel even less substantial. With that in mind, the fact that Almost Free is almost a complete overhaul in sound is already a big improvement, but injecting metric tons more colour, life and spark makes this album a genuine treat across the board. The scrappiness is still there, but that’s now balanced out by a sonic palette that can, at last, reach the points that FIDLAR have always strived for but never hit, and a crop of genuinely great songs show just how impactful these changes can be. As late in the game as it might have been, FIDLAR’s moment to impress has finally come, and it’s better than anyone could’ve reasonably expected.

1. Tool actually released an album

We all know the memes and jokes by now and how they’ve gotten exceptionally stale over time (because there’s really no alternate way to spin “Tool no make music in long time” than that), but the fact that Maynard James Keenan and his band of procrastinators actually got the lead out and released an album this year is, without a doubt, the biggest surprise of 2019. Not since Chinese Democracy has the laborious release process of an album been as far to the fore as with Fear Inoculum, and just like with Guns N’ Roses before them, it proceeded to get flattened under the megalithic weight of its own hype by still not being all that good. That in itself is probably the least surprising thing about this whole ordeal, but at the same time, Tool got something down on record, and even with the extended buildup, few could’ve reasonably predicted that would actually happen in any tangible capacity. And plus, even if it wasn’t that great, something to shut up the zealots for a bit is better than nothing.

Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)

5. Weezer – Weezer (The Teal Album)

On the face on it (given how they’re the kings of memes and all), completely wrecking their fans’ heads Weezer releasing a covers album led by their version of Toto’s Africa (which listeners campaigned to make happen) is completely feasible. But when The Teal Album dropped, there was a buzz of disbelief and (some) excitement that simply couldn’t have existed without an element of some surprise. It’s nothing to revisit, mind – you can only listen to Rivers Cuomo’s serious dad-like delivery of Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This or the “hee-hee”s of Billie Jean once – but the novelty was certainly something that sparked a reaction at the start of the year, be it jubilation or eye rolls.

4. Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Getting older as a rock fan means watching every band you ever loved as a teenager fall from grace at some point, and it seems like those with a soft spot for 2000s pop punk are forced to roll their eyes at their heroes more than most. But this year, Sum 41 made an unprecedented comeback – having flown under the radar for their last few album cycles – putting out the heaviest album of their almost 25-year career. Order In Decline really shows off Sum 41’s musical chops, with blistering riffs and guitar solos galore and real versatility on the part on Deryck Whibley, delivering on both the heavier end of things and the more tender stripped back moments on the album. It’s the best they’ve sounded in some time; while it might not get Sum 41 the quantifiable success the pop-tinged music many of their peers have turned their hand to making, there will always be a pocket of interested fans for albums like Order In Decline.

3. Bring Me The Horizon – Music to listen to~dance to~blaze to~pray to~feed to~sleep to~talk to~grind to~trip to~breathe to~help to~hurt to~scroll to~roll to~love to~hate to~learn Too~plot to~play to~be to~feel to~breed to~sweat to~dream to~hide to~live to~die to~GO TO

They’ve been a long way away from their deathcore roots for some time now (to the rage of many ex-fans), but right at 2019’s eleventh hour, Bring Me The Horizon dropped their most drastically different material of their career thus far. A collection of ambient music that sees keyboardist and visionary behind much of their later material Jordan Fish truly take the reins might not have been a totally unexpected move for the future considering Bring Me’s career trajectory, but after dropping Ludens, one of their heaviest singles in recent years, it’s certainly out of left field. Including a 24-minute meandering slog and some competent EDM tracks, Music to listen to… is a mixed bag, but even though it’s hard to see who Bring Me are trying to appeal to with such a release, having a list of collaborators including Lotus Eater, Bexey and Halsey surely bodes for interesting material in 2020.

2. Marianas Trench – Phantoms

Did anyone bet on Marianas Trench releasing one of the best Warped-Tour-pop albums of the year? The answer is probably a resounding no from anyone not a dedicated fan considering the impressed and almost disbelieving consensus of this year’s Phantoms, a record that separates them once and for all from the often sneered-at scene they made their name in. Comparisons to a more sugary Panic! At The Disco are easy ones to make, but Phantoms does sound like Brendon Urie of old and new combined. These songs are cinematic, driving pop anthems that don’t feel forced like the efforts of many of their counterparts who’ve forced themselves into making such music, and are vitally loads of fun, an ingredient so many pop artists are missing at the minute. Phantoms is just an honest, likeable project that no one expected, and it’s lovely seeing Marianas Trench be commended for it.

1. Set It Off – Midnight

You’d be completely forgiven for giving up on Set It Off after 2016’s appalling Upside Down, a record which saw them pander to a cheesy pop sound with excruciating results. Shockingly though, this year they clawed themselves out of the pits of sanitised teenybopper hell, combining good parts of the pop they made so likeable on Duality with actual guitars (!!!) and nods to the dramatic, orchestral sound that made them so unique on first record Cinematics. Is Midnight something you’ll remember long after the first listen? No, and it does have a selection of sighworthy choices, (like the samba infusion on Lonely Dance or much of Cody Carson’s rapping) but it’s a good enough redemption for a band who were considered exiled from any and all alternative scenes a mere album cycle ago. Any fans who’d written off Set It Off three years ago, Midnight is where to check back in.

Words by Luke Nuttall and Georgia Jackson