The Soundboard Stereo – January 2021

It’s been the start of a new year, and honestly, things seem pretty ordinary. That’s from a number of different perspectives as well; in terms of general life, that’s still being dictated by the pandemic as it has been for the best part of the year, but for music, January has once again been pretty fruitful when it comes to good stuff. Right now, things definitely seem to be looking pretty promising on the musical front with more to come, and while it’ll be a matter of time before we see whether a return to normal life is back on the cards, 2021 seems to be looking like another good year for music. For now though, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo in January 2021…

Modern Baseball
You’re Gonna Miss It All

Throwing yourself into your lyrics is a simple way to get listeners on your side, and the diaristic, universal nature of emo is what locks fans of the genre in so intensely. Modern Baseball became one of the champions of the genre in their six-year run, bringing an everyday charm to everything they did that felt impossible to not at least appreciate. Debut Sports was slightly ramshackle while third and final record Holy Ghost attempted to branch out into more expansive territory – middle child You’re Gonna Miss It All is arguably the best representation of what made Modern Baseball great. A masterclass in short, spiky songwriting, songs like Apartment and The Old Gospel Choir go through full musical journeys in sub two minutes while still keeping every observer brandishing fists in the air and belting along for the whole ride. As simplistic and off-the-cuff as much of what’s said on this record feels, it positions co-frontman Brendan Lukens as an incredibly complex and human narrator, his feelings and actions discussed frankly with no sugarcoating. Warts-and-all aside, though, he’s such an affable overseer of his own narrative that the more impolite thoughts or his admittance of leading people on or being sharp in the sense he’s “not smart, just a prick” doesn’t need forgiving. You’re Gonna Miss It All also boasts song frameworks and choruses other bands would kill for in its just-under-half-hour runtime. Broken Cash Machine (one of the tracks with co-frontman Jake Ewald at the helm, which shines despite diverting from Lukens’ narrative) storms along, leaving no wanting more even though it doesn’t even hit the two minute mark, while Your Graduation, a song with a legacy far above anything else Modern Baseball did, is still the crown jewel of the whole project. You’re Gonna Miss It All is still a reminder of how special a band Modern Baseball were, and one listen immediately calls for a dive into their discography and a good old air-punching cry. • GJ

Parkway Drive

Remember when this came out and it was seen as a ‘controversial’ release? At the time it was ridiculous, but looking at the wild shifts and states the metalcore has undergone since, Ire earning the scorn it did for not sounding like a carbon copy of every other Parkway Drive album feels like a very insignificant thing to get worked up about. That’s even more the case when considering that this is still a great album, laying down a newer, more diverse framework for Parkway Drive without marginalising the heft and power that had defined them. And as much as some would like to argue the contrary, that’s really not the case; Crushed and Bottom Feeder are just as stampeding as ever, and while Vice Grip’s use of melody sent a few monocles popping upon its release, for an example of how Parkway Drive are perfectly equipped to dominate huge venues, even back in 2016, it doesn’t get much better than this. Closing with A Deathless Song as a rich, domineering power-ballad with all the emphasis on the power felt like a calculated move for this album especially, but also represents the natural growth of a band like Parkway Drive, outgrowing the metalcore scene that had birthed them and making a swing for the best of modern metal, full stop. On top of all that, Ire exudes a confidence that a band making this leap might otherwise misplace, and a fearlessness to really go the extra mile that, a good number of albums in, was surprising to see. They might have overextended slightly on Reverence (though, again, nowhere near as much as the backlash might make out; it’s still a good album), but few albums in Parkway Drive’s catalogue feel as important in the long term as Ire. That’s not to say it’s the best, but it’s the most indicative of a band who can pull off whatever they want and still fly, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed. • LN

Wolf Alice
Visions Of A Life

The Mercury Prize has been slowly clawing back respect from music fans for the last few years, choosing to award artists who actually represent music people are listening to rather than brand new or uber-niche acts. Wolf Alice’s Visions Of A Life, the 2018 Mercury winner, not only marked the Prize panel celebrating one of the more underrated Brixton-level indie bands, but saw the Wolf Alice themselves push their pre-existing package further than most artists do on a sophomore full-length. Visions Of A Life takes the blueprint made on debut My Love Is Cool and amps up every aspect. The shoegaze, punk and radio indie influences merge together so proficiently that it allows the soaring transcendence of Don’t Delete The Kisses, the snarling brashness of Yuk Foo and more ominous tones of Sky Musings to exist in the same space, with no question to if any one of them belongs. Singer Ellie Rowsell is a truly magnetic focal point across this album, her vicious barbs and more vulnerable whispers always perfectly and beautifully encapsulating the mood the band unit as a whole invoke on their tightly-crafted musical backdrops. If any song shows the levelling-up of ambition Wolf Alice had on Visions Of A Life, it’s the eight-minute-long title track. Split into three parts, it could serve as a poem about what truly makes a life and a heart; instead, it’s channeled through a guitar epic that has every detail considered. Visions Of A Life stays absolutely true to Wolf Alice but widens the net, takes risks, ups the ante – something that should serve as a perfect example of what to aim for after your debut album. • GJ


It’s still often funny to think how Daveed Diggs is basically a permanent fixture on the Disney payroll now, given just how it is that clipping. sound. It’s not a duality that’s had much of an effect either way, mind – don’t expect any of his songs in The Little Mermaid to take cues – but it’s still interesting to note given how abrasive and unapproachable this project actually is, opting for a very street-level, vampiric take on trap formed by glassy shards of production and discord that’s entirely part of the point of the sound. That’s quite literally what a song like Body & Blood is about, but compared to a similar act like Death Grips, there’s a magnetism to clipping. that crystallises in exactly what they can do with melody and the hip-hop medium as a whole, often coming across as more conventional than might be expected on a surface level. There’s still a primal banger energy to Work Work among the clinking, seemingly arrhythmic beats, and Summertime and Story 2 have such a great sense of flow that a lot of this more experimental fare might tend to avoid. Of course, there’s a deeper, more twisted meaning to it all, with Diggs being as good bringing things down to a far more sinister and dangerous level as he is, but he’s such a charismatic and technically gifted presence that it can still basically be taken on face value and enjoyed all the same. Granted, doing that would be to miss a lot of nuance and fundamental, gnawing void within the album’s thematic conceit, but clipping. are still able to pair true forward-thinking creativity with the capacity to go hard on a purely visceral level, and make it work supremely well. Hamilton it ain’t, but it’s a testament to Diggs’ range as a creative that he’s able to pull so far in diametrically opposed directions, and still come out on top. • LN

Little Mix
Glory Days

While it’s no secret that Little Mix are often the followers of trends rather than innovators, it’s their refreshing approach to stardom and how well they perform the role of ‘girl band’ that makes them such an appealing package. Their consistency as a singles artist might make their growth feel minuscule on the surface, but today, one listen to 2016’s Glory Days makes just how far they’ve come much more apparent. This record was a massive step forward in terms of Little Mix owning their sexuality and openly feminist views, but it’s obvious they were still in the grip of a certain Mr Cowell. Glory Days shows hints of their current ethos, but there are still clear moments trying to replicate family-friendliness that feel out of touch (Meghan Trainor-penned cringefest You Gotta Not or sugary doo-wop track Oops featuring Charlie Puth spring to mind). Perhaps it’s the simple effect of chasing modern trends that have made Glory Days feel dampened by time, but songs from LM5 (released just over two years ago, a lifetime in pop circles) feel more enduring purely down to Little Mix’s outward feminism being sharper and much less superficial. Glory Days doesn’t really venture out of  base level ‘I can please my man but I don’t need a man’ territory. Even Shout Out To My Ex, a standout anthem in Little Mix’s discography, has been superseded in maturity stakes by A Mess (Happy 4 U), a balanced account of a similar situation that is graceful and empowering in equal measure. There are plenty of Little Mix highlights on Glory Days – the heaps-of-fun Janet Jackson / Christina Millian pastiche Private Show and Touch, a top five Little Mix song especially – but listening to one of their later records gives the full picture of who the girl group are today. • GJ

That Handsome Devil
That Handsome Devil

Full disclosure – this was really only unearthed by the discovery that That Handsome Devil released a new album this year, which wound up with a journey down something of a rabbit hole to get here. So, That Handsome Devil – a band whose biggest spike of notoriety began and pretty much ended with the inclusion of their song Elephant Bones on the Guitar Hero II soundtrack, as a weird little surf-rock / psychobilly oddity that’s hard to describe in any way other than ‘kooky’. It’s the sort of 2000s relic that you’d rarely revisit (even though their follow-up A City Dressed In Dynamite was pretty good as well), but while it does sound a bit cheap nowadays, there still isn’t really anything like it. The weird blend of punk, rockabilly and elements of jazz and hip-hop is at least novel, and they’re a band who fully commit to it with how little they take themselves seriously. Their big song is called Elephant Bones, for a start, but on the likes of Yada Yada and especially Dating Tips, you get the impression of a band who are certainly having fun with what they’re doing. Frontman Godforbid in particular can hit the balance between being sleazy and affable with impressive ease, and it makes for a pretty brief collection of songs that aren’t exactly mentally stimulating, but they’re good for a chuckle every now and then. That Handsome Devil might be just a half step from full-blown novelty status at times (they had a later single called Rob The Prez-O-Dent that certainly went that way), and there isn’t much that warrants a deep dive – this isn’t some unearthed gem that deserves critical reappraisal – but it’s fun enough music from a band who probably didn’t deserve more than what they got, but are still pretty harmless all the same. • LN

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

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