Miss Li – Aqualung

“I’m still breeeeathing, I’m still breeeeeeathing……”

Tim: We haven’t featured Miss Li for ages, but right now she seems to be very strongly channeling one particular US artist.

Tom: Brad Paisley?

Tim: Erm…

Tom: Not Brad Paisley, then.

Tim: No. Hell of a of comparison to make, though – Sia, that is, not whoever that guy is that you suggested – and normally I’d pass it off briefly and move on. But here, it seems to be almost deliberate, and it’s so, so pervasive. Halfway through the verses I find myself drifting into “I’m still breeeeathing, I’m still breeeeeeathing……”, middle of the chorus I want to jump in with “you took it all, but I’m still breathing”.

Tom: There’s a bit of Rihanna in there as well, there, particularly in those first few opening notes. You’re right, though: and while she’s not quite pulling off quite as many Really Big Notes as Sia does, she’s certainly good enough to be… well, at least in the same league, even if she’s not at the top of it.

Tim: That’s very true, as I certainly don’t mean this all of this in a bad way. It’s very much a compliment, in fact, as most singers could only dream of vocals this strong. Yet, I really don’t think it’s a good thing that throughout the song I’m thinking I’ve heard it all before. And yet I am thinking I’ve heard it all before.

Rhys – Last Dance

“I’m damned if the instrumentation underneath it doesn’t it turn into something special.”

Tim: New artist off Sweden, not bothering with a surname as presumably that’s too much effort. Here’s the first track, co-written with half of ‘From Paris To Berlin’ hitmakers Infernal.

Tom: Given that Rhys is normally a male name, at least over here, I was surprised by that face and voice.

Tim: So weird thing about this: it sounds great…for most of it.

Tom: It really, really does. That pre-chorus actually made me say, out loud, “oh wow, that’s good”. I think that’s because the melody line there is riffing on something I already know, or perhaps many things I already know: that “if all we ever had” bit is definitely something I’ve heard before. (Any ideas?)

Tim: Oh, you bastard. I hadn’t heard it previously, but now you got me thinking – there’s a lot of Beneath Your Beautiful in that section. DAMN YOU.

Tom: Even if that’s not original, though, I’m damned if the instrumentation underneath it doesn’t it turn into something special.

Tim: Vocal is strong throughout the verses and pre-chorus, instrumentation’s good, particularly during the pre-chorus – but in the chorus it falls down slightly.

Tom: Really? We’ve got a good mixture between vocal hook and instrumental hook, and it sounds great to me. What’s wrong for you?

Tim: I don’t quite know what it is, but above that twisty twirly sound under the chorus, the vocal just doesn’t sound particularly strong, or as loud as it should do. It picks it up for the closing chorus fine, and it’s less noticeable in the second chorus, but at the first chorus it almost gets lost.

Maybe the building up is a designed thing, but it really doesn’t sound like the singing of someone who really is putting in all the effort for every god damn chance.

Tom: I have a feeling that the “god damn chance” bit will age badly. I don’t know how it’ll stand up to many repeat listens, but it’s stood two so far as I write this.

Tim: Other than that, though: great.

Tom: Tim, I almost never actively like new music that you send me.

Tim: Hmm – not entirely sure what that says about this site, but do continue.

Tom: It’s rare than I immediately hit replay, and even rarer that I immediately download the track.

I downloaded this track.

Saturday Reject: Salena Mastroianni – I Don’t Wanna Fight

“Fire them immediately.”

Tim: YES, it’s that time again – less than three months until Eurovision, so let’s have a rummage around the national competitions, see what Europe could have won. We’ll start with one from Britain, and you may remember when we reviewed our winner I said I was FUMING. To explain, I’ll show you Salena’s performance, as broadcast.

Tom: Wow. Tropical house synth patches near the start. That’s original and modern. And lyrics that’d have fitted in nicely as a parody of a Eurovision track. This is… pretty dire.

Tim: Well, you might say that – but I’d ask you to compare that with the studio version – most particularly, the backing levels. The broadcast is just SO, SO much weaker. This is a dance tune, the winner was a ballad, and yet the volume they were put out at was identical. Result: a cracking dance tune that sounded utterly lacklustre, and it’s just unforgivable.

Tom: As a bonus, that studio version means you don’t hear the live vocals, which… well, they weren’t quite studio quality, were they?

Tim: That is also something I’d give, particularly at the start. But the big thing is, in the venue everything was perfect, and the crowd adored it (as evidenced by the fact that the judge’s comments were inaudible due to the cheering after “do you think it’ll do well at Eurovision?”).

Tom: Wait, really? I’ve got a completely different opinion. This is a pretty mediocre song: dull lyrics, uninspired melody. Granted, in what’s probably going to be a Year of Ballads it’d do well, and the message might get a few points for politics. But even in the studio version, I… well, I’ll be honest, I just don’t like it.

Tim: Oh – well maybe I just got caught up in the mood and it was the best of a bad bunch. Listening again, though, I stand by this. And I don’t know who was responsible for sorting out the levels on the night, but I can’t help wondering if they’re the reason The Voice was so crap on the BBC. Fire them immediately.

The Magnettes – Sad Girls Club

“One of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard.”

Tim: With advance warning of a few f-bombs from this pair of Swedes, Rebeka and Sanna, HAPPY FRIDAY!

Tim: Now, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Tom: I am: the intro’s shouty and repetitive in a grating way. The verse keeps reminding me of the verses from Little Mix’s Black Magic, in a really irritating way. “Go get cancer” is one of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard. In short: I do not like this song.

Tim: All of that is fine, particularly the lyric part. But I want to discuss the feeling and emotion of it. Apparently, the Sad Girls Club is ‘not something [the Magnettes] invented, but the idea of a sanctuary where you’re allowed to be sad, different or plain hostile. To counteract a world that tells you to smile when everything systematically sucks.’ And I guess that’s fair enough – why shouldn’t we accept shittiness when we find it and identify with it, or when we really, really don’t feel good?

Except, this is a party tune.

Tom: Right. And despite my strong dislike of the rest of it, I have to admit that this has a brilliant chorus. Seriously, this is one of the best choruses I’ve heard all this year. It’s Icona Pop on a good day, it’s incredibly well produced, it’s even good when it gets stripped down for the middle eight.

Tim: It is – it’s a great dance chorus, and like you said: it’s an Icona Pop style song, so much that if you were DJing somewhere you could go straight from I Love It to this and a lot of people wouldn’t even realise the song has changed. So the big question is, how is it counteracting a world that tells you to smile, when it is so clearly telling you to jump around and have the fun that, allegedly, they don’t want? Add to that the whole ‘mentally fucked up’ lyric – I just think this song is so horribly inappropriate.

Tom: Yep. There is so much potential here, and once the verses get out of the way, it’s not bad at all. But the rest of it just torpedoes it for me.

Tim: Obviously, depression songs shouldn’t start and end with Radiohead, but this? It’s way too far the other way, and for that I’ll take Nizlopi any day, please.

Tom: Do we have to? I’d forgotten about them.

Tim: Oh, I rather liked that one. But if not, and if we want a party tune, then strike out the lyrics, and I’m fine. AAARGH.

Dotter – Evolution

“It just carries itself, and me as a listener, forwards.”

Tim: Just me for today, and if you recall we first met Dotter about eighteen months ago and Tom and I were both mildly impressed; here, I found the intro fairly promising, and then when the beat dropped and the vocal hit I let out an audible “oh, yes.”

Tim: Now, as I write this, it’s half eleven at night and I’ve just got home from a long shift at work where I haven’t sat down once, and this is just such a lovely, lovely track to lie back to, relax, close my eyes and just enjoy. Coincidentally, this morning I was listening to one of my favourite soundtrack tunes ever, and I like this track for the same reason: it just carries itself, and me as a listener, forwards, almost floating along. I don’t have to focus on it, worry about anything – just relax to it. It might just be the mindset I’m in at the moment, but this is just lovely.

Jim – On & On

“I love the guitar melody in the chorus.”

Tim: Yes, just ‘Jim’ – we’ve previously featured his band Cars & Calories and been rather appreciative, and he’s his debut as, well, Jim.

Tim: And yesterday we had a great chorus, with the verses being good enough to hold the song together beyond those, and then more so; here, I’d say we’ve got a very similar thing.

Tom: I’m less sure on the verses on this, and even less on the somewhat-staccato lyric pacing that results in some bizarre emphases on phrases like “GPS”… but yes, that chorus is good.

Tim: It really comes into its own with that big drop, and I find that steady, unstoppable rhythm really brings some musical accompaniment to the “on & on” narrative of the lyrics. I also absolutely love the guitar melody in the chorus – that short falling riff linking the lines together, it’s a small thing but it just fits so well.

Tom: I was going to call that out too! You’re right, it’s such a simple counterpoint, but it works.

Tim: It’s wonderful.

Gotthard – Stay With Me

“Something with some genuine instruments in it.”

Tim: No sniggering at the back please – this band are Swiss, coming up on twenty five years together, and here’s the first single from their celebratory anniversary album. A bit rackety, but have a listen.

Tom: Dear video director, whoever you are: I know the FX team probably complained that the moon couldn’t possibly be there with the shadows like that, but you said ‘do it anyway, no-one’ll notice’. I noticed.

Tim: Textbook error.

Tom: Anyway. The music. Yes. I actually muttered “finally” when that chorus kicked in, because it’s been so long since we’ve talked about a song in a genre like this — something with some genuine instruments in it. I didn’t realise I was missing it.

Tim: Now, there are a lot of very recognisable sounds there – the second line in the chorus in particular sounds familiar – but I don’t care, because of that chorus. It’s wonderful. Enormous, passionate, very strong vocal – it does so much for me.

Tom: I thought that ending was a bit questionable on the first listen — surely it’ll end on a big chorus? But no, even that works, I reckon.

Tim: It helps that the rest of the song is very good as well – while it’s not as good, it more than holds the song together until that chorus comes along again, and that’s all I need from it. It’s that good.

V & JIN – It’s Definitely You

“Falling into hell, soul being set on fire.”

Tim: A break from the ordinary here, with a track from the soundtrack of a Korean TV drama series called Hwarang, but it came up on an algorithmically-generated new music playlist, and I happen to like it.

Tom: I love it when the description of a YouTube video says “NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED”. It might not be intended, mate, but it still is.

Tim: My favourite’s “I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO THIS” – like, really? There was me thinking that you, Iheartniall99, actually were the sole copyright holder of What Makes You Beautiful.

Tom: Anyway.

Tim: Yes. I don’t know much (well, anything) about the TV show beyond what’s on Wikipedia, but what we seem to have here is your standard love song. I say standard, it’s also remarkably desperate and slightly disconcerting what with the whole falling into hell, soul being set on fire vibe of the lyrics, but hey, why not?

Tom: That’s a classic chorus, isn’t it? I’m sure I’ve heard bits of that melody before, and that chord progression’s definitely familiar, but it’s good.

Tim: The music it’s set to manages to keep everything under control and happy sounding – this version’s actually performed by two members of boyband BTS, perhaps explaining why it sold five times as many copies as any of the other eight songs.

Tom: Do not underestimate the power of K-pop boy bands: imagine if One Direction, but with sub-groups, changing rosters, and… heck, just read some of this. Yes, “BTS” will sell records.

Tim: And hey, they’ve done a good job with it, and that’s all that matters really.

Saturday Flashback: Kelly Rowland feat. Wiz Khalifa – Gone

“Who needs the artistic bit?”

Tom: I reckon, Tim, that your thoughts on this will be very much coloured by whether you recognise the track it’s sampling.

Tim: Ooh, is it Basshunter’s Now You’re Gone?

Tim: Oh, it isn’t. But yes, yes I do.

Tom: Because I do. And it’s a folk music classic. Or a slightly more modern pop classic. Or… well, yes, Counting Crows covered it too.

Here’s my problem with this: it never resolves the chorus. Yes, fine, occasionally you’ve got the “got ’til it’s gone” line in there, but the actual resolution is the next line, “they paved paradise” and so on. That’s important. And it’s just not here.

Tim: That’s a very, very good point you’re making, but there’s the question you’re bypassing here which is: why include the sample?Just reusing it because they can? Because the lyrics fit? Or to give it a recognisable hook to hand an otherwise fairly dull track on? Because if it’s the latter: you’ve got the recognisable bit. Who needs the artistic bit?

Tom: Well, apparently no-one. And sure, you could say they’re doing something original and new. I don’t know, you could use a word like ‘recontextualising’ or something. Fine. Except Janet Jackson did the same thing twenty years ago, and that didn’t resolve either.

Tim: Bastards, all of them.

Tom: Harsh.

Tim: Fair.

Frans Walfridsson – Emergency Call

“I find myself wanting the rest to be that good.”

Tim: Yes, it’s a Swede called Frans but don’t worry, it isn’t him off that Eurovision dirge. Instead, he’s off Swedish Idol from a couple of years back, and here’s his debut.

Tom: Ah, it’s good to see the 90s design of bright neon colours and multiple fonts coming back. Wait, did I say good? I meant terrible. Anyway, the music.

Tim: Mmm, and I’d say that’s a decent enough first outing. Admittedly, there’s not much going on verse-wise, but the chorus drop was big enough to bring my attention back to it, and then hang around, which is certainly what a chorus ought to do.

Tom: It is a good chorus, isn’t it? Interesting distortion effects (or possibly just deliberate clipping) on the chorus vocals, which for once seem to fit the style rather than immediately making me turn off. I find myself wanting the rest to be that good, although at least the verse doesn’t drop down to nothing.

Tim: Style is good as well, and it’s showing a nice vocal range and talent – I’ll have this for now, with the hope of a proper belter up next.