The Soundboard Stereo – May 2022

Festival season is about ready to start, which also means the new releases are likely to calm down for the time being. It isn’t a total drought, but there are definitely fewer big ones on the horizon compared to the last couple of months. On the festival front, Slam Dunk is up very soon (and as such, we’ll likely be taking our summer break for this particular feature), but in the meantime, here’s what’s been on The Soundboard Stereo throughout May…

Rina Sawayama with her hands interlocked and her two index fingers to her mouth

Rina Sawayama


In the realm of pop albums, Rina Sawayama’s debut is still yet to move from the absolute uppermost tier, even two years after its release. That’s in no small part down to how strictly calling it a pop album is pretty reductive; her genre-blending has become the killer app of her music, but it still comes with an exceptional freshness, mostly down to the reverberations of how unexpected it was at the time. The likes of STFU! and Who’s Gonna Save You Now? were such tremendous wallops to the temple when they first came out, where modern nu-metal and arena-rock blended so succinctly with hook-a-second modern pop to stick in so unwaveringly. It’s Sawayama’s chameleonic approach to genre that continues to earmark her as one of the best rising stars of the last few years, especially when the pop crossovers remain so potent and easy to imagine as legitimate chart-bothered. XS and Commes Des Garçons (Like The Boys) are the top candidates for being slinky, razor-tight pop songs with all the propulsiveness of a bullet train, but then there’s the glittery J-pop of Paradisin’ or the full-faced power-ballad Bad Friend that continue to turn Sawayama around and reveal more facets that she owns with such commanding ease and presence. For as liberally as the term ‘alt-pop’ can be bandied around, there’s practically no one who embodies its purest essence as well as Sawayama; she’s a pop star whose alternative spirit shapes her artistic persona so drastically, and that’s exactly why she’s amazing at what she does. • LN

A profile of Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson


Every criticism in the book has been thrown at the reality TV singing competition format (which is probably why their presence is hardly felt anymore), but the winner of the first American Idol being Kelly Clarkson certainly set a high bar for future years. She may have curated more of a crooner image further into her career, but Clarkson’s early albums (post her debut Thankful, after which she bid farewell to her Idol management) are early 2000s pop rock to their core. Second record Breakaway remains Clarkson’s most well-known work and her first full leap into a rockier sound. But despite main rock girl anthem Since U Been Gone’s place in cultural history, Breakaway didn’t do anything to place Kelly Clarkson amongst the Avril Lavignes and Michelle Branches of the music world. Perhaps it’s down to the singer’s reality TV beginnings and penchant for balladry (after all, Lavigne herself gave Clarkson her demo of the title track as it sounded too much like a “church song” for her own album) but Behind These Hazel Eyes, Gone, Walk Away and the aforementioned Since U Been Gone show a prowess far beyond your average chart act. There’s a high level of drama throughout the record too, most so in huge piano ballad Because Of You, but sold best when married with guitars. Hear Me and Addicted could easily be more toned down Evanescence tracks, Clarkson having the vocal range and palpable emotion Amy Lee is so known for bringing to the table. As time has passed, Kelly Clarkson’s sights have moved over to more traditional pop, soul, and even country, leaving her pop rock past further and further in the rear view mirror. But one listen to Breakaway now lays bare all the reasons why the singer should be hailed as an icon by all angsty teenagers, past and present. • GJ

letlive.’s log made from red string wrapped around various pins


If I’m The Devil…

The untimely swan song of letlive. continues to serve as a solemn reminder of the band they were growing into, one that was ready to slough off the roots of conventional hardcore that they’d already wildly surpassed, and become a true force in modern rock on a universal scale. Jason Butler has arguably achieved a lot of that with Fever 333, though not to the extent of If I’m The Devil…, upping the melodic factor as well as the depth of songwriting for what mightn’t be letlive.’s most immediate album, but for where they at the time, it rings out the strongest. I’ve Learned To Love Myself is a killer opener, in how brooding and striking it is in Butler’s lyricism and stark delivery. He was always the lynchpin of what made letlive. so insanely potent, and If I’m The Devil… has him running on overdrive, jolting across Nü Romantics and A Weak Ago, and hitting a rousing stride as street poet across Who You Are Not, Reluctantly Dead and a good portion of this overall more subdued album. That’s the key thing too—it’s subdued, but never boring, or as though the band are cutting corners to get there. ‘Meditative’ might be the better term, where the production is cleaner to match its grander scope, and the guitars and bass are more sinuous and hollowed to capture the dread of the world Butler steps into. Moments of true hardcore catharsis are most definitely fewer—there’s Another Offensive Song as the clearest tie-in to what came before, but that’s really it—but it’s a conscious decision that pays off for a band for whom the easy option was never even close to the top of the docket. It’s experimental but duly accessible, and never loses the bite or ferocity among it all. If this truly is letlive.’s final note and they won’t be back for more, it’s one hell of a way to go out. • LN

The tops of four buildings, each with a neon Japanese character on top of them

The Killers

Hot Fuss

The Killers of old are a very different beast to The Killers of today – while Springsteen worship is the Las Vegas natives’ flavour of choice of late, their most visible eras saw them ramp up the drama, be it in their songwriting or the live environments in which they performed them. Debut album Hot Fuss is home to The Killers’ biggest songs, demonstrating from the word ‘go’ that the band are naturals at writing out-and-out anthems, whether they’re born from emotional catharsis (lust for Somebody Told Me, heartbreak and jealousy of Mr Brightside) or just creativity without limits (the overarching storyline between Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine and Midnight Show, detailing a man’s interrogation under suspicion of murdering his ex-girlfriend and the murder itself respectively, taking care never to assign blame and close the book on the story). The elephant in the room here is Mr Brightside, perhaps the most universally beloved rock song of the last two decades. In terms of the actual construction of the song, a lot more effort has been put in elsewhere on the record, but what it lacks in technical prowess it more than makes up for in untouchable anthemia. That quality is turned up even more on All These Things That I Have Done, a full-on church anthem by way of rock song that makes every emotion felt impossible to repress. On paper, Hot Fuss is one of the least exciting concepts compared to The Killers’ other records. But the special qualities that made these songs so special and unconquerable are impossible not to hear on even one listen, and they’re qualities that have ensured The Killers would stick around. • GJ

Hot Milk’s logo against a swirling background of purple, black and off-white

Hot Milk

Are You Feeling Alive?

When Hot Milk first dropped Awful Ever After, the ripples of a potentially special band were there already. At a time when pop-rock needed freshening up greatly, this felt the band who could do it, blending a classic 2000s sensibility with the rougher, rowdier edges that would define the sound and artists to follow, not to mention the polish that was well-integrated without being overdone. Admittedly they’ve been unable to capture quite the same magic as this debut EP, though that only continues to see Are You Feeling Alive? rising higher and higher in estimation. For starters, Han Mee and Jim Shaw are a terrific vocal pair, each with distinct personalities in their delivery that can both complement and juxtapose the other when necessary, in what does a lot to buoy up the dynamics of a release that already zips by. The hooks are undeniable too, across the board in a tightly curated set of four tracks without a misstep among them. Wide Awake and Awful Ever After are the clearest highlights for just how unavoidably huge they are, but the bubbly Take Your Jacket and the nocturnal alt-pop of the title track bring in dimensions that it would honestly be nice to see Hot Milk touch on again in the future. Perhaps it all sounds like lashing on praise to what’s ultimately a fairly slight, fairly straightforward listen, but springboards within pop-rock are rarely this strong, and the distances that Hot Milk have been launched since ultimately speak for themselves. We’re still waiting on a full album from them; hopefully when that comes, this level of quality and creative streak won’t be forgotten. • LN

A bench looking out of a window with translucent curtains in front of it

The Postal Service

Give Up

Artists’ musical side projects are always interesting to pay attention to, particularly one like The Postal Service, who were born out of a pure desire to create. Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel each brought their own musical specificities to tales of existentialism and more insular relationship struggles on debut, and so far only, album Give Up, which has . Tamborello’s synths are wistful, twinkling above Gibbard’s sweetly delivered inner monologue, always a cohesive package even despite the critiques of cringeworthy lyrics (particularly on Sleeping In). That said, it’s a record that feels very much of its time for the most part, certain keyboard lines glitching a tad too garishly to have aged anywhere near seamlessly (the bleeping instrumental of Nothing Better notably distracting from the rich duet between Gibbard and Jen Wood). Some of this record may be tethered forever to 2003, but it’s also thematically tied to an entire subsection of the population coming of age.These songs are designed to soundtrack a time when one’s emotions are running wild yet remaining constant all at the same time. The way the music and lyrics mirror one another are a huge part of that experience, particularly on most popular track Such Great Heights, whose effervescent synths truly capture that feeling of weightlessness when everything in a relationship feels so easy. The way Such Great Heights hooks you in is almost certainly down to its pop adjacency, but it’s head and shoulders above everything else on Give Up. It’s hard to say the entirety of Give Up lives up to its legendary status, but it’s a glorious time capsule of many peoples’ youth. • GJ

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

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