The Soundboard Stereo – August 2021

As the remnants of festival season that actually came about draw to a close, it’s about time for release season to properly pick up, even if it feels like it’s barely slowed down this year. The next couple of months are unquestionably stacked in terms of releases, and in a way that’s probably more noticeable than the past few years, given that every week seems to be dealing new albums from a handful of huge acts. It does tighten up the space for year end lists that have maybe started to swirl in the mind, but that’s looking further forward than is necessary just yet. For now, let’s see what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo in August 2021…

New Found Glory

Sticks And Stones

In the realms of 2000s pop-punk, there are certain subcategories, of which New Found Glory’s Sticks And Stones might stand as one of the most iconic of those albums to some but not others. It’s a divide within the sound that continues to this day (probably more so now than any time in the past decade), but compared to the likes of Fall Out Boy or Panic! At The Disco, the so-called pop-punk heartthrobs that belonged more to pop-rock, Sticks And Stones is a decidedly different beast among the pantheon of their biggest albums. It’s a lot more grounded and unpolished in points; it feels as though it owes more to actual punk, while still having the monstrous hooks to sit alongside the acts who’d scrape real chart success at the time. And that’s not to say that this is a marginalised album within its genre—this is a hugely successful release that’s arguably New Found Glory’s seminal work—but the likes of Understatement or Forget My Name feel decidedly locked in their own early-2000s time period. It’s a similar case with a band like Sum 41, especially compared to the pop-punk of today, but there’s simultaneously a timelessness that makes this sort of thing hit so much harder and more forcefully. This is what pop-punk feels like on a terminological basis, where the melodies are prominent but still crunchy and forceful, and the lyrics have mass appeal while still feeling ground-level. It’s probably a drastic misnomer to call an album that spawned megahits like My Friends Over You and Head On Collision ‘true punk’, but New Found Glory remain one of the most successful bands to define what can make this genre great, and that’s in no small part down to the successes this album achieved. • LN


Halsey

hopeless fountain kingdom

After debut album Badlands gained Halsey a cult then not-so-cult fanbase, it’s hard to retrospectively look at follow-up hopeless fountain kingdom and say it was a completely hitch-free era. Sure, the singer’s step towards a more cut-and-dry mainstream pop sound did enough to keep their recently vastly expanded fanbase (thanks to huge Chainsmokers feature Closer) interested, but hopeless fountain kingdom is certainly the Halsey album that’s been quickest to burn out. Centred around a Romeo And Juliet-esque narrative that isn’t at all noticeable post the opening prologue, this record has plenty of misses in its leap to moulding Halsey’s existing pop sound to something more chart-aimed. Its Cashmere Cat and Quavo features feel unmemorable and tacked-on respectively (as does the underwhelming single remix of Alone featuring Big Sean and Stefflon Don), plus there are a few instances where the narrative voice of a song doesn’t feel like Halsey but a ‘bad bitch’ character, like Walls Could Talk or the uncharacteristically braggadocious Don’t Play (the gargantuan instrumentals being their only saving grace). The songs that fare best and have stayed afloat long after the hopeless fountain kingdom era are the ones that represent Halsey at their best – barbed, vulnerable and unabashedly honest all at the same time. Heaven In Hiding and The Weeknd co-write Eyes Closed meet huge levels of edgy pop anthemia with lyrical details that can only come from Halsey’s brain, while Strangers still holds up as one of the best songs in the singer’s discography. hopeless fountain kingdom was a necessary step in getting the Halsey we have today, but when it’s sandwiched between Badlands and Manic, two records which illustrate a concept and Halsey’s identity much more clearly, it’s definitely the weaker link of the three. • GJ


Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Blossom

When Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes first came out with their very first tracks, the thing that still pops out the most was how sincere this all way. This was off the back of Pure Love, Carter’s much-maligned post-Gallows work that leaned on anthemic indie-rock and remained defined by their line “I’m so sick of singing about hate”, so to see such a sheer about-face that came with Fangs could feel like overcompensating and an attempt to curry favour once again with an audience that had previously jumped ship. Of course, there is merit to now saying that the Pure Love style of thinking might’ve just been dormant, given that direction has been explored on subsequent Rattlesnakes albums, but over time and with the benefit of seeing Carter once again grow into one of British rock’s best-loved figures, Blossom just feels like such a special album. As a combination of punk, alt-rock, blues-rock and an all-around guttural sensibility, it remains pretty peerless, championed for the force of will that comes in making a song as defiantly and self-evidently excellent as I Hate You the closer, but with a tightness that goes underrated, and a focus on real, genuine songcraft that a ‘former hardcore’ frontman mightn’t have been given credit for in the past. The recently-released deluxe version does negate some of that tightness though; the real experience comes from the base version, a volatile, while-hot album from front to back that holds up ludicrously well and likely always will. Even with time making it clearly that Carter’s intentions are drifting to bigger things overall, Blossom still stands as one of his opuses, the real hit that sparked a resurgence that still shows no sign of slowing down. • LN


Jungle

For Ever

Trend pushers desperate to find the next lucrative musical groundbreakers couldn’t control themselves when Jungle dropped their debut album in 2014. That summer, they were on every festival bill, TV adverts were soundtracked by Busy Earnin’ and The Heat and the two-piece were being covered in every music publication. Follow-up Forever is a strange kind of level up – there’s something of an emotional narrative arc over the record, all inspired by a gleaming new approach. For Ever was written and recorded after a trip to California where both members ended relationships, and a lot of the record is appropriately sundrenched and reflective. The balmy summer vibes fit perfectly with Jungle’s fruitful funk/soul/pop combo, and the run of the first six songs on the record are immediately lovable. For Ever is at its best here, in full carefree danceathon mode – the vibrancy of Heavy, California, pure funk of Casio and slink of Cherry all have the exact same effect. The more pensive inspiration lends itself to the second half of the record, where it spirals into more mellow and winding tracks that are far less engaging, though admirable just for where the sound attempts to go. Retrospectively, the rose-tinted appreciation for the emotional journey has faded and it’s obvious that Jungle’s second album is quite a top heavy one. But it hardly matters – they’ve carved out a lovely little lane for themselves where good vibes are all that matter, and there are still plenty on For Ever that keep you coming back. • GJ


Caylee Hammack

If It Wasn’t For You

The grander scale of new country artists can be the sort of unwelcoming, unforgiving atmosphere that never truly sees much in the way of penetration, mostly because the genre’s current mainstream incarnation remains so beholden to its veterans that there’s simply no room at the table to squeeze anyone new in. The lucky few that do mightn’t stick for long, which leads to new artists either chronically sanding themselves back, or scoring a one-off hit that’ll get forgotten among the detritus in the meat grinder in due time. In the case of Caylee Hammack, it’d be a shame if either happened really, given that If It Wasn’t For You is a prime example of a talent deserving to be nurtured, rather than just pushed aside after some predetermined amount of time. It does need to be said that concessions have been made here—place the hit Family Tree next to a song like Small Town Hypocrite to see the difference—but Hammack’s big advantage comes from being able to work in the both the warmer, tasteful fare, and the booming pop grandeur. She’s got a tremendous voice that can fully make use of some really strong writing, and sell an emotionality and firepower that’s balanced really well here. With the right amount of experience at honing both, this could be something great, but that requires a push forward that just isn’t here yet. There’s a scattered feel to this album that isn’t shining Hammack in the best light, but leaning into the stuff she’s best at—i.e. the writing and the power of her voice—could definitely change that in no time at all. • LN


The National

Trouble Will Find Me

Out of all of their beloved-by-fans, critically-acclaimed albums, Trouble Will Find Me is probably one of the easier access points for The National’s discography. It’s the record that saw them sand down the edges of what they’d done before into something more streamlined, and really master the mechanics of their musical melancholy. The National work as a unit, swirling guitars and fluid drums ebbing and flowing across all of their tracks. Nothing ever feels stagnant despite the deceptive simplicity of these soundscapes, controlled lead motifs dancing like embers from a fire over Matt Berninger’s beautifully forlorn, distinct vocal contributions. It’s so easy to fall in love with Bryce and Aaron Dessner’s guitars on This Is The Last Time, I Need My Girl, and instances like Don’t Swallow The Cap or Graceless (the instrumentals of which stunningly invoke both a back-of-the-mind sense of dread and a forlorn serenity)or Fireproof (one of the tracks recorded in one take)where the band launch a full assault are super easy to melt into. It’s understandable why someone not already completely enamoured with The National could find it hard to differentiate between tracks on Trouble, or for a casual fan to feel stunted when it comes to fully falling for the tracks with not so traditional hooks. That said, it’s impossible to not appreciate the meticulous craftsmanship of all of these songs. Even if Trouble Will Find Me doesn’t immediately provoke an urge to dive headfirst into everything else The National for the uninitiated, it’s a glowing statement of everything the band do best. • GJ


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

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