The Soundboard Stereo – May 2021

As we predicted last month, May has definitely been where things have started to pick up. Not only is the prospect of live music returning inching further and further closer, but between the big names delivering and the new class staking their claim as something special going forward, there’s been a lot to celebrate this month in music. Of course, that’ll likely be counteracted by the usual summer slowdown (the perfect time for 2021’s first edition of The Catch-Up next month), but there’s still a lot to look forward to coming, seemingly on all fronts. And on that note, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo throughout May…


Muse

Origin Of Symmetry

If any of Muse’s albums were deemed to be their ‘definitive’ release, it would probably be Origin Of Symmetry. It’s where their ambitions became grander and where the instrumental and creative muscle to back it up felt most pronounced, and a 20th anniversary redone version on the horizon would suggest that there’s still a lot of appreciation for what this album paved for them. And even two decades after its release, it’s easy to see where the seeds of a huger-than-huge band began to bloom, given how well-realised so many of Muse’s ideas continue to feel so far on. It’s a bit crushed sonically overall (something which the new version is reportedly looking to fix), but in an embrace of prog and spacey grandiosity more than ever before, Origin Of Symmetry feels like a real lynchpin moment for where Muse would come, to where, even in a supremely ossified form that presents itself nowadays, the resemblance is still there in passing. The huge sound and cinematic touches feel very clearly defined here, as does Matt Bellamy in his role as histrionic mainman that’s always been a constant for Muse going forward, for better and for worse. But even from a simple musical palette, the DNA of Hyper Music and Citizen Erased can still be felt multiple albums down the line, and having a single like Plug In Baby with all of its jagged shifts and shards of feedback, in hindsight, feels like the sort of mission statement of where things would go and how potentially off-the-rails they could be. As good as their cover of Feeling Good is, it’s not really indicative of where Origin Of Symmetry goes at its best, and how this is arguably as good as Muse would ever be. For the foundation of what would be one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, an album like this says a whole lot about how far creativity combined with populism could get. Even in Muse have drastically hit the skids in recent years, the fact that Origin Of Symmetry’s place in their catalogue remains acknowledged is consistently promising, and it’s deserving of the recognition it continues to get. • LN


Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa’s ubiquitous second album Future Nostalgia had not only the talent and star power of a million-selling pop girl, but the stamp of a bonafide artist who had a real statement to make, blending 90s hip-hop and dance with a modern shimmer and giving a world going into a pandemic-induced lockdown a reason to keep dancing through it all. Understandably so, her self-titled debut is much more shrouded in more tentative pastels rather than today’s bursting-with-confidence neons. It’s a textbook album from a wannabe pop girl finding her feet – stuffed with bangers that don’t quite have an identity due to toe-dipping into multiple trendy genres. There are tropical elements to Hotter Than Hell, Be The One is glittering synthpop, and a Miguel feature and a sweet duet with an uncredited Chris Martin putting fingers in plenty of pies. Lipa’s slinky, raspy vocals are the uniting trademark of this whole album, and justification alone for anyone to bet on superstardom for her off the back of it. But her burgeoning personality as a pop star is what’s most exciting about a relisten to Dua Lipa – someone who champions self-love and confidence (IDGAF, Blow Your Mind) and total girl power (New Rules). It’s a record that shows the base blueprint of one of today’s biggest artists, one that will always be a solid foundation for whatever inspiration she decides to put over it. • GJ


Rise Against

Appeal To Reason

Going through Rise Against’s back catalogue reveals a certain number of trends that remain prescient even to this day. Their politics is the obvious one, but the consistent strength of their sound and execution may be a bit more noteworthy, in that for as – for lack of a better term – predictable as they’ve gotten recently, they’ve never released an outright dud, even after what could be considered their golden era in the early- to mid-2000s. Appeal To Reason does fall slightly outside of that window, but it can be argued that it deserves just as high a pedestal, in terms of a band continuing down their chosen path with a hunger and drive that clearly hasn’t diminished, even five albums deep. Of course that’s evident in songs like Re-Education (Through Labor), Audience Of One and Savior, all of which have earned a pride of place as mastheads within Rise Against’s canon, but for an album so unashamedly punk in its ambitions to channel that into a hard rock canvas that absolutely nails both tangible power and populism is impressive, even today. It may present the issue with Rise Against’s music that’s always persisted, namely in how they aren’t quite as pointed in pure lyrical acumen compared to some of their contemporaries (Against Me!, Anti-Flag, Propagandhi, the list goes on), but it never feels lacking in weight or passion. That’s always been the trump card of Rise Against, and having that funnelled into songs that are just as big and riotous as they’ve penned before is a sure-fire way to continue success that’s undoubtedly worked for them. There’s a reason they’ve stuck around as long as they have with what amounts to some very minor tweaks with each release; there’s just such a strong, inherent appeal to what they do, and the fact that Appeal To Reason is probably no more or less evident of that than the rest of their catalogue should be taken as a good thing. To amass such bulletproof consistency is no small ask, but it’s something that Rise Against have struck upon wonderfully. • LN


Tame Impala

Currents

The always ambitious, always vibey one-man project of Kevin Parker is among the most revered indie acts of the 21st century, with the man himself often being featured on other, more diverse projects. Currents established Tame Impala’s move away from cavernous, fuzzy bass riffs and into the limitless, vibey compositions that publications fall over each other to praise. It feels like more of an experience than any of their albums before it, as eye-rolling a statement as that is; sticking it on to just let it all wash over you feels like the best way to take Currents in. Crowd favourite The Less I Know The Better deceives you into thinking it’s the main centrepiece of this album, its irresistible bassline soundtracking many an indie club night ever since its release. But every single track here has things to notice and appreciate although they might not be quite as memorable, be it Let It Happen’s full eight-minute long journey from building up to the climactic motif before softly bringing you back down again (and the choice to have that as the opener of the whole album), or the synth line that cascades and twinkles under Past Life’s warped soliloquy. This record is sure to be one of, if not the most synonymous Tame Impala record in time, and for good reason. • GJ


Marianas Trench

Ever After

The consensus with Marianas Trench seems to be that they’re the super-polished pop-rock band that it’s okay for critics to like, and while that’s pretty unfair to a lot of bands who are far more layered and intelligent than many would give them credit for, it’s not hard to see where an opinion like that might stem from. For one, Marianas Trench are a lot more localised to Canada and therefore resistant to overexposure, but with great songs and a powerhouse frontman in Josh Ramsay – factors that become especially helpful when bleeding over into purer, more direct pop – there’s more of a self-evident quality to Marianas Trench than might be found elsewhere. Astoria and Phantoms are better representations of that overall, but if there’s a moment to be pinpointed where any sort of international recognition could’ve germinated from, it arguably would be Ever After. That’s not saying much considering their global profile still isn’t enormous, but it’s not hard to see how songs like Desperate Measures and Stutter could nab the same audiences that would gravitate towards Fall Out Boy or Panic! At The Disco. Some of the production choices on the whole haven’t aged the best, particularly the fizzed-out boulders of synth on Haven’t Had Enough and the twinkly glitter-emo theatrics of Fallout, but neither are exclusive to this album. Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find many albums of this stripe from 2011 that sound completely stellar nowadays, and at least Marianas Trench have a killer vocalists to bolster everything up regardless. That’s what the majority of this band’s appeal comes down to, where they mightn’t necessarily reinvent anything they’re indulging in, but there’s such a big, bright-eyed execution to every part that stands out so much better. Even on an album that would go on to be topped by its next two consecutive follow-ups, Ever After is a great example of a band throwing themselves into a notoriously shallow and throwaway sound, and solidifying something wonderful within it. • LN


Trophy Eyes

Chemical Miracle

For small emo bands, making that once-in-a-career album, one that people fall head over heels for so deeply that it guarantees constantly packed-out shows of impassioned crowds out of breath from screaming every word back, is the musical equivalent of striking gold. In many peoples’ eyes, Trophy Eyes’ sophomore album Chemical Miracle is that one record for them, and even though it never seemed to transcend labels of ‘breakthrough’ into something much more. Listening to this record now, with the context of the band’s transition into cleaner, cavernous pop punk, it feels like it came out a lifetime ago. Singer John Floreani’s voice is where the biggest difference lies. Now, he utilises his unique baritone which is free of any pop punk cliches, but Chemical Miracle sees his hardcore vocals take centre stage across the record, but are particularly potent on the hulking Rain On Me and minute-long rager Chemical, moments of pure fury that both captivate on his part and give way for his bandmates to have their moment in the sun. Trophy Eyes by far suit their current guise better than their Chemical Miracle sound – it’s much more streamlined, focusing on using the best parts of what’s in their arsenal rather than trying to create maximum emotional impact first. But just how visceral Chemical Miracle is can’t be denied, any listens now feeling like the gut punch it was in 2016. • GJ


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

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