The Soundboard Stereo – September 2021

We’re now in the midst of release season with live shows coming back in full swing, almost as if there’s some sense of normality coming back. It’s the clearest that it’s felt in a long time despite how long the buildup has been, and it’s still good to see that the deluge of new music the autumn brings hasn’t let up either. There’s been some great stuff too, with only more on the horizon as those first drafts for year end lists are worked on, and what’s been a pretty stacked year for new releases prepares for its final once over. Until then though, we’ve still be listening to plenty of music—here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo this month…

Bruno Mars

24K Magic

Orchestrating a successful pop era these days often means delving into the past for inspiration. Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia is the latest uber-successful artist to elevate her star by integrating sounds from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s into her more modern pop. Before her, Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic (his own take on 90s R&B)was completely inescapable, sweeping the 2018 Grammys and adding bucketloads of artistic credibility to an already established pop mainstay. 24K Magic is Bruno Mars’ biggest statement as an artist thus far in his career, the singer fully enveloping himself in a lavish party boy lifestyle funneled through James Brown and Kris Kross . A showman through and through, every ounce of swagger this material calls for is completely and utterly sold so that it never feels like a hollow facade (an expectation that reading the premise on paper might set up). Finesse (although the later released remix featuring Cardi B is far superior to the album version), Chunky, Perm and the title track are wherethis record fares best, songs designed to start a party the minute the first beats ring out. Versace On The Floor is Mars’ take on the slow 90s sex jam, but for every hint of class the track has there’s cheese alongside it in equal measure. It’s not a song to actually play while doing the deed, but it’s a fun guise to see the singer take on, and one he suits and can embody with his eyes closed. Anything not worth noting is for good reason, as a lot of the excess material here fall unspectacularly between the bottle-popping club fantasies or mic stand-clutching crooner, but even that said, this is certainly the most enticing full-length record Bruno Mars has to his name so far. • GJ


Childish Gambino

Because The Internet

Before Donald Glover released Because The Internet, there was definitely a shade of ‘comedy rapper’ that coloured his work. To call it a stigma might be a bit harsh, but Camp did have its fair share of unavoidable corniness regardless of its standout moments, and the fact he was still on the cast of Community when this album came out could’ve easily held that notion firmly in place. On Because The Internet though, the shifts can definitely be seen, where the elements of ‘comedy’ come more from wit and the overall sound is more expansive and defining of an artist looking to make music their primary creative medium. Obviously that’s not the case now as Glover has found even more of a profile in his acting, but one thing that stands out about Because The Internet—and indeed, all other Childish Gambino projects since—is that it doesn’t feel like a side venture. There’s clearly passion here, whether it’s in Glover’s presence as a rapper and his lyrical construction, or a wider production palette encompassing R&B, pop and even psychedelic tones in places that are a lot more vibrant and colourful. Ludwig Göransson‘s work behind the scenes is a big help, but so much of that can be attributed to Glover himself, staking his claim as a real artist with confident intent, even if the lyrics can frequently show otherwise. That’s part of what makes this such an interesting listen though; for a man whose rapper alias came from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, Because The Internet is arguably the first moment where Glover’s music could be seen as seriously defining from him, flaws and all, and even today, it’s a fascinating listen because of it. • LN


Basement

Colourmeinkindness

Of the cult-followed crop of mid-2010s emo bands, Basement felt like one of the most accessible and down-to-earth. Perhaps it’s because they were British that they felt easier for fellow Brits to relate to, but bands like Transit and Man Overboard were too sunkissed to be listened to in constant downpours, while Balance and Composure and Citizen would often turn up the drama, making music to be played only during your worst breakdowns. Basement’s quietly self-assured concoction of lyrics both candid enough to hit home and bury their way into your heart and poetic enough to adorn Tumblr blogs with delicate painted photosets, anthemia and an unlikely partnership between gritty guitars and Andrew Fisher’s sweet lead vocals is an easy one to get along with. While later Basement records feel more sanded down to complement Fisher’s voice, fan favourite second record Colourmeinkindness hits a happy medium, providing moody yet tender moments of self-reflection (Covet, Pine) and full cathartic ragers like the incomparable Spoiled. The love plenty of people have for this record (and this band in general) was probably exacerbated by the sudden hiatus announced just before its release. Although that hiatus was (thankfully) short lived, it allowed fans of this scene to realise just how missed Basement’s presence would be from it, and immortalised them, and this record in particular, as essential listening for any emo novices. • GJ


Thrice

To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere

Back when Thrice released To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, it couldn’t have felt like more a surprise. They were always a good band, but aside from odd moments and albums, could become lost among the class of 2000s post-hardcore that they’d outgrown, along with plenty of their peers at the time. So to come out with this album, where the heaviness and bleakness were kept prominent and plentiful, and the melodies remained just as huge or even more so, it felt like a genuine reinvention into a band who were becoming older and more accustomed to straight-up rock, but not in a way that felt boring or overtly aged. It’s still the case today; this is one of Thrice’s best albums, and a couple more in this style since have only solidified that notion further, when they’ve tried to replicate or build on that style, but have never surpassed it. A lot is still made of the weight of Dustin Kensrue’s voice here, and that gravel-throated approach is tremendously appealing throughout, but paired with the churn and physical erosion or this album’s instrumental pacing, it reveals it as one excellent part of an even more excellent package. And considering Hurricane, Blood On The Sand and Black Honey have nestled themselves among the real favourites in Thrice’s catalogue (not to mention showing a political streak that felt measured and mature without losing any genuine rage), it’s evident of a move that was an incalculable success, even today. Even as Thrice have been unable to capture the same magic since, the fact they’re sticking to this album’s vicinity says mountains about how great this is, and how great they continue to be for it. • LN


LANY

Malibu Nights

Celebrity culture and the gossip that surrounds it is an oft-debated and vilified phenomenon, particularly when it goes too far. But that said, it can give us a parasocial insight into the lives of the famous, an insight not meticulously crafted by the subject themselves, be that through the art they produce or the PR representation they hire. LANY have been known to deliver somewhat samey sensitive synthpop, but the external context about frontman Paul Klein’s very public breakup with megastar Dua Lipa creates a very necessary tether to substance for their second album Malibu Nights. None of LANY’s records hold up quite as well as a complete project like Malibu Nights does. Chronicling the emotional aftermath to Klein’s recuperation, it’salmost like a diary of the five stages of grief for the frontman, channeled through airy ‘80s-tinged anthemia that sounds equally as soaring as it does tear-soaked. Having a storyline listeners can read about in black and white rather than something more ephemeral adding extra dimensions to songs that might have stayed more anonymous on other LANY projects (particularly their unspectacular debut). That said, the tweaks to LANY’s sound help too, weaving nostalgia into whatever current issues the listeners whose lives they’re soundtracking are facing and elevating their base songwriting so songs like If You See Her, Taking Me Back and Run actually stick rather than go in one ear and out the other. The title track, a stripped back piano ballad that closes the record, is the true crown jewel of these nine songs though, ending the record’s narrative with a setback in Klein’s emotional healing, reverting to pining and self-medicating like plenty of people listening probably have before. While LANY probably won’t go down in history as one of the best acts of their time or kind, Malibu Nights is an example of things going very right for them, and certainly a career best offering. • GJ

We Are The Ocean

Go Now And Live

It’s easy to feel sorry for We Are The Ocean. They were among the highest fliers in the early 2010s wave of Britrock, only to come crashing down like all the others when that bubble burst, but in a way that’s found any modern evaluation of them to be less than favourable. In hindsight, while they did have hooks and melodies at their disposal, that came as a result of sanding down a more aggressive post-hardcore side to fit into the comfy confines of alt-rock at the time, of which Go Now And Live sits on the border between a solid example of that scene, and a rather inconsequential listen that’s been wildly surpassed, but during the wave and since it. To an extent, songs like The Waiting Room and Now & Then still sound decent for big, uncomplicated rock songs, but they also don’t have much to set them apart besides the dual vocal tones of Liam Cromby and Dan Brown, the latter almost permanently shifted from screams to cleans on this album, and feels all the more perfunctory for it. Beyond that, Go Now And Live is effectively the template for middling-to-solid Britrock of that era, in production that was radio-friendly without scrubbing away every edge (even if many were), and a songwriting approach that could be a bit more detailled than a lot of indie or pop-rock, though not by a whole lot. It does kind of solidify the reason why We Are The Ocean have slipped away so hastily since their split—as okay as they might’ve been within their scene, they don’t currently feel like a band that defined it in the same way as so many of the peers, and that hindsight has left an album without much staying power in the wider rock landscape in its wake. • LN


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

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