The Soundboard Stereo – October 2021

Another turbulent year is coming to a close before we all know it, and though October hasn’t been quite as packed this year as previously, it’s still a hefty contributing factor to the overall furore of 2021. It definitely marks a point where the year is generally winding down, but there’s still plenty to come in November to crash any and all preparations for year-end lists in December. Obviously there will be more to come on that front, but it definitely feels like there hasn’t been a lot of clear standouts this year, even in early drafts. Still, it’s early days on that front yet, and there’s still a fair amount of time before the year is up. So until then, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo this month…



On the face of it, modern music sensation 25 is just another example of what we’ve come to expect from Adele – mostly made up of piano ballads about heartache with one pop-leaning badass stomper to silence the naysayers. So what is it that makes the singer such a phenomenon? No, her music doesn’t push boundaries, but what it does do is hit the sweet spot between ordinary and extraordinary. The talent on offer is striking and phenomenal, beautifully discussing the most universal feelings of the human experience. The way it’s presented is palatable and with enough room for the central star to show off every inch of her voice, plus the press tours she cackles through are so inescapable that one can’t help but associate her endlessly lovable personality with her less characterful songs. What 25 does, though, islevel up all of the classic Adele tropes. The badass stomper becomes Send My Love (To Your New Lover), a masterclass in grace following a relationship breakdown made all the more appealing with Max Martin’s genius on board. Though ballads are still plentiful, there’s added depth across the album with unexpected emotional shapeshifting. I Miss You clocks in at almost six minutes helmed by atmospheric drums, River Lea feels like Adele’s own brand of folk with hypnotising passages sung in lower octaves, while Water Under The Bridge is classic Adele but ten times improved, and one of her best songs full stop. Its melody is totally irresistible without feeling sparse (as some of the singers’ can be to fit in her vocal gymnastics), the chorus crashing in like a burst of yearning but still providing the catharsis a storyline like the singer overcoming a lifetime of doubt and settling into a loving relationship invokes. If you’ve already decided what Adele has to offer isn’t for you, then another listen to this record, or the next, or the next, is unlikely to change that. But there’s lots to appreciate on 25 especially, and while the lead single for incoming follow-up 30 doesn’t exactly hint at sharp pivots away from what Adele does already, we’ll just have to wait and see what she makes even better next time. • GJ


Joy As An Act Of Resistance

It’s wild to think that Idles are already gearing up to release their fourth album when their steam was only just picking up a couple of years ago. To a degree, that could be cause for concern (particularly when last year’s Ultra Mono felt like a severely diminished return), but there’s also some hope that comes from looking at Joy As An Act Of Resistance and seeing that the rapid follow-up methodology can yield strong results. This was the point where Idles fully ingratiated themselves within the wider music world, with the staccato, sloganeered writing style that would become emblematic of them, and a focus on broad but earnest politics that had the keenest of ears for humour and pop culture references to keep itself afloat. It’s also still their most direct album to date from a hook-ready perspective, in songs like I’m Scum and Danny Nedelko that have a battering sense of melody that’s only heightened by Joe Talbot’s shaggy, bellowing delivery. If the current wave of post-punk ubiquity blossomed from this album’s impact though, Joy… feels like more than just a patient zero, and instead does have its own characteristics that separate it from the pretenders and copycats to follow. It’s heavier and meatier, owing as much to traditional punk and hardcore as it does post-punk, and while the ever-looming void of discourse is always ready to swallow Idles whole for daring to speak the P-word in the same sentence, Idles aren’t in the same ballpark as, say, Slaves in that regard. There’s definitely genuineness here that’s more than just wearing punk as a costume for quick clout, and though it’d be nice for Idles to focus their efforts a bit more nowadays rather than continuing to fall through their always-open sluice, when they hit like they do here, they’re capable of great things. • LN

Mayday Parade

Mayday Parade

Having just announced a 10 – make that 11, thanks Covid – year anniversary tour for their self-titled third record, it begs the question whether Mayday Parade will be embarking on many more like it in the future. Looking at their discography with the power of hindsight, this self-titled record seems to mark the end of a golden run for them. Albums after this one have either been forgettable or attempted to shift genre to middling success, certainly not enough to warrant anniversary tours fans will be falling over themselves to snap up tickets to. Their formula of pop punk anthemia dotted with the odd melodramatic power ballad feels recharged on this record following their second full-length Anywhere But Here, home to plenty of terrific but safe songs (which the band say was down to the label-enforced co-writes, not their own decisions). Mayday Parade expands the scope slightly, with orchestral moments acting as a lovely complement to the toned down piano numbers, and flourishes that feel lifted from classic rock influences taking their more anthemic moments up a notch. Oh Well, Oh Well, the album’s lead single, feels elevated even today, its crashing into a stadium filler from a slow piano intro, changing its chorus every go around and just feeling like a fully realised version of Mayday Parade. Priceless and I’d Rather Make Mistakes Than Nothing At All are based around simple melodies that feel instantly like home to pop punk fans, and the lyrical game is on point on tracks like You’re Dead Wrong. Mayday Parade is a prime example of a band executing their niche extremely well, and though the band may have lost their way slightly since, these songs are going to sound glorious filling rooms next year. • GJ

Patrick Stump

Soul Punk

It’s funny to look back at the rancor around Patrick Stump deciding to make a pop album when so many of those ideas would be carried through to Fall Out Boy’s post-hiatus work, and much worse at that. That’s not to say that Soul Punk is a great album, but it certainly feels like Stump has more of a grasp when left to his own devices than when butting heads with another three individuals that clearly have different creative philosophies. Besides, a great vocalist drawing on influences of Prince and Michael Jackson with no distractions is a far more attractive prospect on paper, even if the results can skew more towards Bruno Mars in generally faithful reproductions that are still beholden to modern pop overall. Granted, that’s not always the case—in general, the tones are a bit more warped and unstable than the most mainstream of pop, and that can come out with something really excellent at times like Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)—but it also can’t be denied that it’s a sensibility that screams ‘side-project’ pretty loudly. The fact that This City was the biggest cut from here speaks volumes (especially when factoring in the Lupe Fiasco remix that tries to go deeper but never really gets there), and for an album that wants to be as immediately catchy as this is while still maintaining some form of alternative cred, the wires do get crossed somewhat and make for a rather middling listen overall. Still, for a relic of the past that’s unlikely to resurface, Soul Punk makes for a fascinating prospect to dive into, and a harbinger of what was to come, both for better and for worse. • LN

Lower Than Atlantis

Lower Than Atlantis (The Black Edition)

Much loved as they are by those in the know, being a Lower Than Atlantis fan in the few years before they announced an indefinite hiatus became a frustrating thing. Their once-renowned live shows felt restrained and used the same (almost exact) setlist every tour, which made their eventual calling-it-a-day feel expected. In terms of their records, their self-titled album was undoubtedly their most mainstream breakthrough, reflected in its later Black Edition, which includes Radio 1 Live Lounge covers, covers chosen by each individual member of the band and  original songs encompassing everything Lower Than Atlantis are known for. The first (and main) disc of Lower Than Atlantis  is the first taste we got of the band vying for the radio rock world instead of a Kerrang! cover being the biggest achievement they could hope for. The huge choruses of Emily and English Kids In America demonstrated a whole new beast, one that could now drop stuttered synth motifs into a rock song and carry off a hazy sex jam in a nasal British voice. The second disc, however, is where things are more chaotic and interesting. On one hand, it reeks of wasted potential.

Get Over It, the reissue’s lead single,remained the only remnant of this group of songs to have any kind of presence in the band’s live shows until the end of their career. The Reason, one of the best later-era Lower Than Atlantis songs full stop, was inexplicably never given its flowers or even played live. Sewer Side was released prior to the standard edition of the record coming out and played on the supporting tour but relegated to a tag-on on the Black Edition, odd considering its balance of an angular riff and huge chorus would make it the perfect bridge between new and old Lower Than Atlantis. This isn’t even to mention the choice of every band member choosing a song to cover, born entirely out of frontman Mike Duce deciding he wanted to cover, um, Strong by Robbie Williams. Of course, this is the second disc of a breakthrough album, obviously it will be something of a scrapbook of cast-offs, but armed with the knowledge of what would happen, it’s an interesting relic of a band who were on the verge of breaking down entirely, fingers in many different pies to see which would get them on the radio. Lower Than Atlantis are remembered for many things, but the decisions made in this Black Edition era aren’t necessarily one of them. • GJ

The Cab

Symphony Soldier

The guilty pleasure aspect of the late 2000s / early 2010s wave of super-clean pop-rock is probably its most defining characteristic, in that a lot of it was really bad, but still offers a reasonably fun listening experience to turn your brain off to. Case in point—The Cab, a band who were never all that big, but found themselves floating in the ether of alt-pop perennially occupying supports slots for All Time Low or Mayday Parade, probably because they didn’t have enough going for them to make the jump up to headliners. That might sound unfair, but an album like Symphony Soldier feels like a notably weaker version of both of those acts, without the spark, life or dalliances with creativity that both had. For one, this is barely rock as much as an attempt to ape early Panic! At The Disco and water it down even further, with theatricality swapped out for 2010s pop sheen, and witty lyrics bulldozed and replaced by pop imagery without much in the way of tact or nuance. Really, its saving grace is that it’s as catchy as it is, and that Alexander DeLeon is a good enough singer to pull out something in the way of bright-eyed innocence that makes some of its more heavy-handed tropes go down a bit more smoothly. At the end of the day though, it’s the same alt-pop fluff that can be attributed to acts like A Rocket To The Moon or Junior Doctor, a sugar rush that never stimulates beyond that. Apparently The Cab are still going, even though they’ve done nothing since this came out in 2011, and while it might be interesting to see what they’d come up with now, it’s probably nothing worth clamouring for at the same time. • LN

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

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