The Soundboard Stereo – July 2021

Over the last couple of months, it feels like a threshold has been crossed in the music world. The usual summer lull for album releases is in full swing, but the trickling return of live music feels like a real cornerstone moment after the drought that the last 18 months have brought. It’s still early days to say how long this will last or the long-term effects it might have otherwise, but there’s at least hope going forward with more festivals and shows on the horizon. Along with the deluge of releases coming next month, with any luck, this could be where things start to pick up after so agonisingly long. Until then though, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo in July…

Carole King

Tapestry

As far as a legacy for an album goes, one could certainly do worse than constantly topping lists of the most essential breakup records or best coming of age albums. Carole King’s Tapestry is legendary for both its beautiful specificity in capturing the singer’s own personal experiences while still making them tangibly universal, as though any listener from any background can relate. Never pretentious, King conveys her emotions through carefully chosen words that paint pretty pictures but stay firmly within the realms of accessibility. Her wisdom and maturity on Beautiful and It’s Too Late are snug alongside vivid storytelling on the title track and Smackwater Jack, with no song completely sacrificing any element of the Carole King package. The intimacy the piano and guitar-led instrumentation brings provides a new lens to view You’ve Got A Friend, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Will You Love Me Tomorrow (made famous by James Taylor, Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles respectively). While Franklin’s more rousing version spotlights her incredible vocals and The Shirelles aimed for a pop radio hit, King’s own versions are a campfire jam, a conversation with a knowledgeable friend rather than being preached to by a perfect, untouchable star. That’s what makes Tapestry such an essential part of music history more than 50 years after its release- the warmth that makes Where You Lead a perfect fit to be the theme song to Gilmore Girls and the way with words that makes the most personal situations the most universal. Long may its reign as go-to breakup and coming of age album continue. • GJ


Pop Smoke

Faith

Ah yes, the industry standard of being given an inch and taking enough miles to wrap around the planet multiple times over. The fact that Pop Smoke’s first posthumous album Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon was actually pretty good felt like an indication that exhuming the unfinished remains of dead artists for profit might be starting to fade away, but clearly Faith is here to show that the practice is alive and well. To be fair, it’s not like this is horrible—Pop Smoke was a good enough rapper to at least deliver a salvageable performance—but when his best material was in drill and his most successful was in R&B, some of the decisions of Faith feel very misguided, and more obviously like vocal takes slotted amongst instrumentation and production that they otherwise might’ve have belonged to. He sounds supremely awkward against some of the brighter strokes of The Neptunes’ production on Top Shotta, while the glossy R&B-pop of Woo Baby and the disco thrum of Demeanor feel as though they were built around their respective guest stars Chris Brown and Dua Lipa, with Pop Smoke’s contributions as padding. In general though, Faith just has none of the spark or hit-making potential that its predecessor had; those felt like full, natural compositions already, even in the case of the smoother moments that might’ve only been dabbled with previously. Here though, it’s even harder to deny that these are leftovers or scrapings from whatever sessions are yet to be strip-mined, bulked up to almost an hour and reliant on name recognition alone. The fact that Pop Smoke’s mainstream career has pretty much been an entirely posthumous one is an interesting point, but continuing to stretch it out and attempting to feast off the table scraps never has and never will work in the long term. • LN


Paramore

All We Know Is Falling

With every birthday Paramore’s debut record has, it’s hard not to think about how far the band have come since and the weight their name holds now. They’re Grammy-winning pop-punk legends who’ve made a seamless transition into making irresistible pop, an integral part of an entire generation’s coming of age. Paramore were first noticed in their teen angst phase, one the generation they inspired are all too familiar with. All We Know Is Falling is super dramatic with very little fun, the lyrics dealing in absolutes and huge choruses elevating everything beyond the garages the then-teenagers would have band practice in. Hayley Williams is, as was often the case with the band’s older material, the focal point of the record, her vocals stunning straight from the off against instrumentals still in need of a little refinement. All We Know… is definitely the Paramore album with the least to offer in the bigger picture, a stepping stone fizzing with potential rather than a multi-layered opus. That said, the Paramore of sixteen years ago have a better grasp of how to write a pop punk song than some other bands could even dream of – Pressure remains a staple of the band’s discography, Brighter and Never Let This Go underrated gems. While Riot! and Brand New Eyes will probably remain the go-to choices for Paramore fans needing a rock fix, All We Know Is Falling remains a solid debut with some real standout moments to cherry pick. • GJ


KSI

All Over The Place

It’s still weird to consider KSI as a hit-making artist, doubly so when he’s vaulted over so much of his UK hip-hop peers from what felt like a standing start. From his early singles, he’s pretty much ditched the divide between UK and US rappers by exercising that collaborative muscle with some notably big names, in what can only be presumed as some ironclad synergy of clout between being a major label artist, a YouTube megastar and a legitimate professional boxer. So just a year after his debut comes All Over The Place, a title which is extremely apt at conveying what seems to be yet another career expansion into something more pop-ready in places. It’s not really needed given the magnitude of guests once again—21 Savage; Craig David; Bugzy Malone; Lil Durk; the list goes on—and it makes for a very uneven listen, even when the contributing voices are shorn away. For one, KSI isn’t a very good singer, and while that’s not an issue when paired with the perennially awful caterwauling of Yungblud on Patience, the cracks begin to show on No Time when he’s given the room to do more for himself. He’s got the pop-rap styling more than anything, especially on more dance-driven cuts like Don’t Play and Really Love, but trying to juggle that with a harder, more ‘legitimate’ rap persona gives the impression of an artist whose ambitions vastly dwarf his means of reaching them. That said, there’s a couple of solid cuts here and the guests generally show up for what could be dismissed as a downgrade for some of them, and it’s not like KSI is short of creative or entrepreneurial momentum in any channel. So yeah, it’s not amazing, but KSI is hardly in any sort of position to be worried about that. • LN


Never Shout Never

Harmony

Do you ever have a memory that’s been filed away in the deepest recesses of your memory suddenly flash back to you? That’s exactly how Christofer Drew’s Never Shout Never re-revealed itself to this writer earlier this month. Drew’s association with the Warped Tour pop-rock scene in the early 2010s got Never Shout Never’s name out to plenty of fans in that demographic, so 2010’s Harmony is probably the archetypal incarnation of the project that many people’s brains jump to, even though more recent albums of theirs showcase a more grown-up, by-the-numbers version of the sound. Harmony’s are ditties that can easily nestle themselves into your brain for life if you’re not vehemently against the type of music it’s home to. The syrupy persona in the lyrics and especially the artificial baby-voice intonations made it easy for the teen demographic to latch onto and almost impossible for many other Warped fans. The music itself, the guitar / ukulele singer-songwriter setup is still a baffling fit for tour bills with Forever The Sickest Kids and the like. Sure, in songwriting terms bands like All Time Low and Mayday Parade certainly expressed similar sentiments to cheatercheaterbestfriendeater, but this definitely feels like it fits in more with 2010s cutesy YouTube culture rather than So Wrong, It’s Right and A Lesson In Romantics. To its credit, Drew’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist add to parts of Harmony, particularly in fleshed-out tracks like sweet perfection and the completely out of left field hoedown soundtrack piggy bank that’s much more fun than lovesick guitar yearning. That aside, this version of Never Shout Never is something that feels tethered to the early 2010s, something we as a society have moved past quite some time ago. • GJ


ZZ Top

Eliminator

Oh ZZ Top, the sort of band that shouldn’t have gone as hard in the ‘80s as they did. Eliminator came out in 1983, the same year as landmark hair-metal albums like Mötley Crüe’s Shout At The Devil and Def Leppard’s Pyromania, albums with which the extent of the DNA this one shares with them might as well be that they all have guitars on them. Not to disparage hair-metal at all (…well, maybe a little), but compare Eliminator to so much of what that scene was and would be, and this just seems so much cooler and more worthy of the badass reputation those bands were trying to forge. For starters, the fact that this one album has Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs can pretty much make it feel like a greatest hits collection as it is, but despite a bit of ageing in the sound and production, this sort of slick, tight boogie-rock really does hit the spot more often than it doesn’t. The ‘beards with hats’ look of the band doesn’t really betray how poppy a lot of this material can be, though there’s still a pleasing amount of ruggedness that Got Me Under Pressure and I Got The Six use to their advantage to be really strong overall. The writing is nothing to praise too heavily—it’s an ‘80s hard rock album; what do you expect?—but even now, nearly four decades later, there’s still such an overbearing coolness that ZZ Top exude. Even though it might’ve been seen as a more ‘commercialised’ version of this band, the fact that this has withstood the test of time to arguably become their definitive album says a lot about how much impact this has. Good stuff. • LN


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

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