THE SOUNDBOARD STEREO: Strange Sci-Fi & Shoegaze

Poster for The Mandalorian Season 3

The Mandalorian (S3) (2023)

Here he is, back to star as the titular Mandalorian once again—a stuntman with roughly the same body proportions as Pedro Pascal, because there’s no way in hell that he’s still in that costume anymore. His voice is still there though, and truth be told, the physicality isn’t as much a necessity when this newest season is just as much about the characters and worlds around Din Djarin as it is about himself. Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan is much more of a main player as she becomes a leading figure after witnessing the Mandalorian creature of legend, the mythosaur, and Grogu is also here to continually prop up the entirety of Star Wars merchandising on his tiny, green shoulders. In fact, the emphasis on those characters arguably takes precedence to story this time around, especially when stunt-casts and references to past Star Wars media is more pronounced than ever; Jack Black, Lizzo and Christopher Lloyd all show up as one-offs, and in the same episode, no less. It makes for something of a rockier season than in the past, even when a good number of episodes were effectively side-quests, but the charm and bracing nature of The Mandalorian always holds firm regardless. When the story does take centre stage (notably in the last couple of episodes), it really does ramp up, clearly setting the pieces up for more down the line, but also satisfying in its own right. And of course, there’s enough of that standard Star Wars action and spectacle to keep you hooked on the most base level throughout. Maybe compared to how a show like Andor floored expectations (or indeed, past seasons of The Mandalorian), this mightn’t tower above much else, but being really good is still enough, at the end of the day. • LN

Artwork for Life Is Strange: True Colors

Life Is Strange: True Colors

PS4 / PS5 / XBox One / XBox Series X/S / Nintendo Switch / PC

Games which mould and shape themselves around the decisions players make are always some of the best, the stakes always feeling much higher and consequences much more viscerally real. The Life Is Strange series is a shining example of such games, softening the blow of vicarious drama with characteristic heart. Although shorter than its predecessors, third instalment True Colors is enveloping as ever. Every Life Is Strange game puts the time and effort into developing its characters, but Alex’s empath powers add a whole new layer by allowing players into the deepest darkest thoughts of your in-game best friends and randoms walked past in the street alike (highlights include two friends hopelessly crushing on each other and a man trying and failing to get over his anger issues). Because of the game encouraging you to interact with anyone and everything to squeeze every last bit of context, every main character feels like a real, likable person, their realism grounding the uber-dramatic story turns which could easily descend into soap opera territory in the hands of anyone else. Alex’s long lost brother Gabe dying in a sudden tragic accident was revealed in the trailers and promo material for True Colors, but such a great job is done of fleshing him out that it still makes your heart sink. Along with that though, the central mystery is a brilliant ride through moral dilemmas and real societal issues. True Colors is a great torch carrier for one of the more rewarding game series, and a single playthrough will certainly leave you feeling everything at once. • GJ

Poster for Avatar: The Way Of Water

Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022)

Dir. by James Cameron

Considering James Cameron has spent the best part of the last decade-and-a-half living full-time on Pandora, you’d hope this would be good. It’s also the sequel to the highest grossing film of all time, so there’s that too. Thankfully, The Way Of Water is quite good…but not exactly great, particularly from a story perspective. From the second that Jake Sully and family arrive at the sea tribe’s village, every beat is telegraphed from a mile away, doubly so for the environmentalist message when the whales are brought in. At the same time though, this is probably as close to a pure, absolute blockbuster as you’ll get these days. The action scenes and set-pieces are impressively scaled and grand, to the point where even a three-plus-hour film seldom drags because of them. Considering how generally basic the plot can be (and how character arcs and development are nothing tremendous), The Way Of Water remains a pretty engaging experience. Granted, the dazzling visual presentation does a lot there, as top-end CGI realises these characters better than pretty much any film in the last few years. The creatures and environment are even better too, now given the benefit of the vibrancy of ocean life that’s always a terrific spectacle. Like with the original Avatar, that’s really where the selling point is. You’re not here for diverse plot threads or compelling characters (or a consistent accent from Sam Worthington); you’re here for the flash, and The Way Of Water is flash from front to back. The fact that can almost singlehandedly keep up this film about big, blue cat-people who look almost functionally identical is a testament to how well this can work, even if that’s not exactly plastering ‘third biggest film ever’ all over it. • LN

Artwork for Balance & Composure’s ‘Too Quick To Forgive’

Balance And Composure

Too Quick To Forgive

There have been a number of once-defunct US emo bands reuniting lately, but something feels especially right knowing that Balance And Composure are putting out new music in 2023. For now with Too Quick To Forgive, it’s only a short, two-song taster that showcases where the band are at the moment, but it picks up mostly where they left off, immediately feeling like a quintessential part of their discography. Savior Mode is the archetypal Balance And Composure banger, anthemic in all the best ways yet still feeling downcast in its guitar tone and with singer Jon Simmons’ signature delivery. Last To Know is a six-minute slow burn that really marinates in Simmons’ discussions of some of the most complex emotions he’s ever discussed on record. These songs don’t feel like a continuation of the band’s 2016 album Light We Made, leaving the woozier, more experimental sound for something more synonymous with their name. The Things We Think We’re Missing feels like the spiritual home for Savior Mode and Last To Know, but if they were to be attached to another project in future, they certainly act as a promising start. • GJ

Poster for Beef

Beef (2023)

Oh, look—another super-hyped Netflix show that’ll inevitably have barely anything of a life cycle because the binge model of TV isn’t working anymore! To be fair, that’s entirely the fault of Netflix’s scuffed release strategy than Beef itself, which is actually quite good. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong play two people involved in a spate of road rage, and whose lives become consumed by the incident and getting back at one another to hugely escalated degrees. It’s got the feel of the ‘comedy’-dramas that seem to be all the rage across the last few years (think Atlanta or The Bear), not in small part due to the gifted leads, and a really smart writing style that doesn’t suffer too much from typical Netflix bloat. There’s a couple of supporting cast members that could do with some sprucing up, or a more active role in spots, but that’s to be expected when Yeun and Wong are clearly the main participants here, with so much of the drama coming from pettiness that boils over to ludicrous degrees that makes a pair of deliberately unsympathetic ‘protagonists’ so hard to look away from. Wong especially shines, as a high-end, keeping-it-together business owner that cracks at the mere presence of pressure in her life, acted with a certain nerviness that feels absolutely perfect for this character. It’s hard to say whether or not Beef with stay in such high esteem, especially when it doesn’t give off the impression of holding as well on a rewatch, but initial exposure brings forth a show that hits a certain spot that’s deceptively hard to pinpoint, but is unmistakably satisfied when it’s hit. Oh, and there’s some wild soundtrack choices; it’s worth watching for those alone, honestly. • LN

Artwork for Hundredth’s ‘Rare’



If we had a penny for the amount of 2010s hardcore bands who took the hard left turn toward shoegaze, we’d have quite a few pennies. Sonically it’s quite the pivot, but in makeup, bands in both genres have the same approach in crafting and guiding listeners on a full journey. Hundredth are a band whose shift was a move for the better, first shoegaze record Rare remaining a standout in their discography. The songs on Rare are spacious and dream-like with Chadwick Johnson’s vocals floating on the peripheral of the instrumentation, listeners really having to strain to hear the lyrics in some instances. The anchor on the record are Johnson and Alex Blackwell’s guitars, which add some heft and forge paths in a musical environment that could leave listeners adrift with no direction. The pace helmed by Lee Hutchison‘s drums is integral too, keeping the shoegaze aspects structured and exciting with a dash of Hundredth’s hardcore energy of old. Later projects veered more towards synths and more ‘80s-feeling sounds, but Rare represents a tried-and-tested path done right. • GJ

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

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