The Soundboard Stereo – January 2020

January has been an odd month this year, not less because the level of quality has been considerably higher than what its reputation as the dumping ground of the musical year tends to be. Instead, between surprise releases and albums falling way off from where their hype markers would’ve initially placed them, the turbulence and uncertainty that’s characterised a lot of modern music seems to already be at play, and while February is looking quieter, there’s still plenty on the horizon that could shock and surprise. And among all of that, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo in January…

Eminem – Music To Be Murdered By

By now, Eminem has pretty much laid waste to any legacy he might have had left over the course of his last couple of albums, falling into overwrought, pop-leaning mediocrity on Revival and clapping back at critics and haters with bizarrely little tact on Kamikaze. You’d half expect his newest surprise release Music To Be Murdered By to continue that narrative, but really its entire existence seems dedicated to rehashing old ideas from throughout his career in the vain hope that his diehards will enjoy it, and that he’ll have some sort of springboard to jump back from next time. The former might be holding fast but overall, this isn’t a strong method of moving forward, especially when his inspiration comes from dated ‘romance’ songs that always feel uncomfortable on Those Kinda Nights, playing into the beaten and broken narrative that he’s cycled through umpteen times before on Stepdad, and courting controversy for controversy’s sake on Unaccomodating. That’s not to say there’s no moments of light; Godzilla and Yah Yah are both fun, the former with the playful squelch of the beat and the latter for overloading itself with guest rappers that run away with the whole thing, and Darkness proves surprisingly poignant as an analysis of the mind of the Las Vegas concert shooter. But these are the isolated moments within an album that doesn’t have enough ideas to fill its hour-plus runtime, and cribs most of the ones that it does have from sources that should be left firmly alone at this point. Quite what Eminem actually hopes to achieve through all this remains unclear, but when his next album inevitably drops in about a year’s time, it’s hard to imagine the end goal will be any clearer. • LN

Architects – The Here And Now

The Architects of today are very much a different beast to the band they were in 2011, and arena-headlining metal titans don’t make albums like The Here And Now. To be put mildly, The Here And Now isn’t a record looked back on with particular fondness, especially by the band themselves. If a lesser band than Architects had made The Here And Now, it would have been a career highlight and certainly wouldn’t have received anywhere near the same level of retrospective frostiness, but the career of whichever band that might have been without a doubt wouldn’t have achieved the longevity that Architects have. It’s the context of Architects’ musical journey that makes it the black sheep of their discography, the main attraction being Heartburn, a cringy, lifeless ballad even outside of the realm of metal that everyone would prefer to forget. Aside from that though, the only crime this album really commits is being run-of-the-mill. Though many won’t agree, some Architects highlights call this album home – Day In, Day Out remains a highlight in their repertoire while A Open Letter To Myself represents the slow-building but never boring type of ballads that Architects made a trademark of theirs circa the 2010s. The Here And Now’s legacy is a record of by-the-numbers metalcore (and Heartburn) made by a band who were always destined for bigger things. It was without a doubt a record that needed to be made to figure out what Architects didn’t want to do, but we’re definitely right in saying plenty of their fans would rather it never be spoken about again. • GJ

Roddy Ricch – Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial

With The Box becoming the first huge new hit of 2020, it feels like the time to start actually caring about Roddy Ricch has arrived, even if that in itself can be something of a thankless task. He’s a bit more nimble and creative than the deluge of trap rappers he’s been bundled in with, with Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial exhibits plenty of the same problems. For one, the clear hits can easily be separated out – The Box is obvious, but High Fashion, Peta, Bacc Seat and even the intro all have the hallmarks of crossovers either waiting to happen or already in the midst of happening – and when that’s all said and done, what’s left isn’t much different than the usual fare that comes out of the sluices on an almost daily basis. Sure, Roddy himself has personality, but that alone isn’t enough to save an album that, in all honesty, can feel pretty boring and stale when rattling off trope after trope without giving itself so much as a moment to breathe. For those who are into that sort of thing, this will inevitably go down smoothly, but as a vehicle for projecting Roddy as a serious hitmaker-to-come, Please Excuse Me… isn’t the statement of intent that it could’ve been, and that’s a shame. • LN

Catfish And The Bottlemen – The Ride

It seems that lately every time Catfish And The Bottlemen are brought up in public conversation, the criticism that they’re nothing but a one-trick pony is raised by a gang of fist-shaking naysayers. There might not be too much sonic difference between the band’s three records other than a leap in scope and a need for songs to fill the increasingly large spaces their live shows pack out, but there’s a reliable quality that comes with a Catfish release that majorly outshines (and in a lost of cases, influences) many of their peers in a tired indie scene. 2016’s The Ride is an album that has become an exemplar for wannabe indie musicians – big choruses, a conversational, Jack-the-lad lyrical voice that takes pride in being entirely unpretentious and guitar solos that punctuate their songs with flair. Sometimes it can get a little too meat-and-potatoes, but it’s hard to truly criticise if you’re a fan of indie music at all due to the sheer amount of reference made to their predecessors. Oxygen could be mistaken for an Oasis B-side with the way it gallops along, Heathrow’s acoustic instrumentation is not unlike something The Kooks would put out, while singles 7, Twice and Soundcheck strike the golden balance of ambition, sincerity, likeability and catchiness that far too many solemn, self-serious indie bands falter at doing today. Is The Ride, or indeed any of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s material, shiny and unique or full of deep, philosophical meaning? Far from it. But a job well done is always worth commending, especially when it’s almost single-handedly carrying a generation’s worth of indie bands. • GJ

Orville Peck – Pony

If country music is lacking in individual, iconic names in the modern day, an artist like Orville Peck can’t come slamming down to earth soon enough. The visual distinctions stand out enough, with the tasseled mask that’s become synonymous with Peck as an artist, but in also falling into the rare camp of being an openly gay country singer, and with a sound drawing on smoky barroom sounds funnelled through the lenses of Elvis and ‘90s indie-rock (something which makes the Sub Pop signing make way too much sense), Pony is the sort of breath of fresh air that country’s underground has been dying for for ages now. The echoing production is frequently gorgeous, and when Peck’s voice melts into it like on Dead Of Night, the result is some of the most distinctive and evocative music to come of this genre in years. Admittedly, keeping the slow, seductive pace as a norm is far more effective than some of the comparatively upbeat fare like Turn To Hate which isn’t quite as all-encompassing, but Peck’s man-of-mystery air combined with such a phenomenally rich sound and voice feels like the beginning of an icon that’ll only come to be appreciated more and more in time. Even for the many who believe themselves totally allergic to country, Pony is a shot in the arm that’s totally unexpected, but just as fulfilling, if not even more so. LN

Billie Eilish – don’t smile at me

There are two types of people in this world – those who, at the bare minimum, admire everything that Billie Eilish does and what she’s doing for pop music, and those who sniff at her and call her an industry plant. It’s not hard to see where such accusations come from considering her young age and connections to Hollywood through brother, collaborator and former Glee actor FINNEAS. But her (recent Grammy-winning) debut album when we all fall asleep, where do we go? established the siblings as not only a force to be reckoned with, but trailblazers in current pop. It’s not quite something fully formed on debut EP dont smile at me though, a much more anonymous collection of songs which focuses more on making sad ballads Billie’s identifier rather than embracing the weird and wonderful whole package she is known for today. Yes, ocean eyes does remain one of her best tracks to date, but much of dont smile at me’s other material, like idontwannabeyouanymore and watch, doesn’t have the same staying power despite being well-produced showcases of the singer’s pure vocal talent. It’s the tracks which show glimmers of Eilish’s personality like the fuzz-heavy and threatening COPYCAT, often hilarious party favor or bellyache, the most danceable song based around serial killer imagery you’ve ever heard, where this EP thrives – the lyrical substance often makes up for more sparse and nondescript musical backgrounds. dont smile at me is a fine starting point for a new artist in the late 2010s, but considering what Billie Eilish has become since, she’s bound to bury it with whatever she puts out in the future. • GJ

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

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