Zara Larsson – Weak Heart

Tim: There seems to be a fashion at the moment for numeric album titles – One Direction’s FOUR, Take That’s III, Taylor Swift’s 1989, but before all those, back in October Zara released her first full album, simply entitled 1. This here’s the fourth track from it, and rather enjoyable at that.

Tim: Ever since dubstep made it mainstream, I’ve very much enjoyed a big two-step drumbeat to emphasise parts of tracks, and this makes excellent use of it.

Tom: Agreed. That’s been around for a long time, but it’s only gone mainstream lately. I remember us complaining about dubstep when it first went big, but now that the world’s gotten used to all of that — yes, it works extremely well. Bonus points for that twinkly piano bit near the end too.

Tim: PAY ATTENTION TO THE CHORUS, it says, because it’s important. You MUST be told about Zara’s weak heart, because you need to act upon it. Probably.

Tom: Really?

Tim: Actually you don’t, Zara just wants you to hear her being annoyed, but still, it’s a great way to demand interest in a song while it’s being played, and after it’s been played it encourages contemplation and thoughts of “well, that was a powerful track, I should hear it again”. And you what? I think I will.

Tom: Like yesterday’s, it’s a bit too slow and downbeat for me: I like my emotional ballads BIG and my dance tracks DANCEY, and this falls uncomfortably between the two. But that’s my taste, and not a reflection on the track itself: I can see why you’ll play it again.

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Kadie Elder – First Time He Kissed A Boy

Tim: This came in via e-mail recently; Kadie Elder is a band, and to be more specific a synthy electropop Dutch one.

Tom: Well, I’ve heard less promising introductions.

Tim: You can probably guess this from the title, but the e-mail states that this track is “about recognizing your sexuality in a young age and the difficulties that can follow”.

Tim: And there we go. Quite a nice track, isn’t it?

Tom: I… guess? The chorus is pleasant, but the whole thing just seems a bit cold: the vocals are buried in the mix, hard to make out, and the instruments just aren’t quite entertaining enough to take centre stage.

Tim: The video is…hard to describe because I’m not really sure if I think it’s moving or a little bit mawkish, though I suspect you’ll lean towards the latter.

Tom: You’re absolutely right: mawkish. It’s possible to pull off Deep Emotional Videos With A Message (again, Pink’s Perfect comes to mind) but this is just by-the-numbers and… well, dull.

Tim: It’s certainly entirely predictable, which spoils it somewhat but never mind. Musically it’s nice to hear – the lyrics, hard as they occasionally are to make out, tell the picture a lot better than the video does, with lines like “keeping back the ghost inside”, “cover up is what they told”, though oddly they never move on to the happy place that the video ends up at. So as far as downbeat synth pop tracks go? I like it a lot.

Tom: Yep, as far as downbeat synth pop goes, it’ll do. I just don’t particularly like downbeat synth pop.

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Saturday Flashback: Klostertaler – Freunde bleiben Freunde

Tom: Here is an Austrian folk-music band covering a song that probably should never have been covered by an Austrian folk-music band.

Tim: Hahahahahahaa oh that’s WONDERFUL.

Tom: So it turns out there’s an entire album devoted to covers of Scooter songs. This is perhaps the highlight.

Tim: Oh, what a highlight.

Tom: The main thing this shows is just how repetitive the original track actually is. With the trappings of trance music removed, it starts being just a bit of a dull song — and perhaps it gives us an insight into how those who don’t like trance feel about Scooter.

Tim: Thing is, Friends isn’t the best Scooter track by a long way, in terms of actual music. It is repetitive, yes and the lyrics are, well, not exactly thesis length. It is, however, one of the tracks that’s guaranteed to put a smile on my face, because of its simplicity, its happy melody and just general, I don’t know, friendliness, I suppose. And this? I reckon this has it just as much, and I almost prefer “Blieben Freunde” to “We’ll all be friends” rhythmically. This is GREAT.

Tom: Klostertaler started in 1976. The year after releasing this, they broke up. I don’t know if the two events were connected.

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Vengaboys – Where Did My Xmas Tree Go?

Tim: Before you play this, Tom, I want to break some upsetting news to you gently, because it’s mentioned in the song but hearing it that way disturbed me somewhat.

The thing is…well, it’s Uncle John from Jamaica. He’s…I’m just going to say it, he’s passed away, and he won’t be with us this Christmas.

Tom: Well, if I’m honest, I’m a little relieved. It does explain why he finally stopped calling every damn day.

Tm: Oh, did he keep doing that? I just changed my number after a while. Hopefully, though, we can enjoy this new track regardless (and despite the horribly disturbing cat thing in the video).

Tom: I… oh dear. I have mixed feelings about that.

Tim: Yeeeahh… It’s their first original track since 2010’s Rocket to Uranus, and how have we developed? Well, we haven’t really, although we have ditched the innuendo obsession.

Tom: Mm. See, there are moments of proper 90s Vengaboys joy in here: if we ignore the lyrics, then the instrumentation in that first verse and chorus, after the damn sleigh bells leave, is actually really nice. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a well-placed “heeeeey” sample.

Tim: Back with the faux-Jamaican voices, though I suppose that does at least provide a semblance of continuity in the Vengaverse (though if we’re doing that, we should probably try to discover how they got back from Uranus).

Tom: I can’t get behind that accent. If Mike Read can’t get away with singing in a faux-Jamaican accent, I’m fairly sure the Vengaboys can’t either.

Tim: It’s…oh, thing is, I’m trying to come up with something nice to say about it but I don’t really know why. It’s terrible. I didn’t mind it so much when I first heard it, but throughout writing this and trying to think of stuff to put I’ve listened to it a number of times, and now I really don’t like it at all, and I can’t think of anything positive at all, not least because of that cat. But maybe you’ll have a different opinion.

Tom: No, it’s much the same for me: there’s moments of joy in there, but in the end it’s just a horrible cash-in Christmas track. Ah well.

Tim: As a post script, though: it’s not all bad news. It’s actually the lead track off a Christmas EP which is primarily remixes. I say remixes; they’ve largely just put sleigh bells on top of every single beat, with a few Santa samples in there, but it’s a nice excuse to hear their hits all Christmassed up. Also, some decent festive DJ puns – Merry Corsten, Treësto, Carol Cox, Armin van Blizzard, you get the idea. Some redemption.

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Em – Rising In Love

Tim: What would you say, Tom, if I offered you the most ‘Everytime We Touch’-sounding song I’ve heard in a very, very long time?

Tom: Cautiously optimistic? If it’s like that in style, and not in melody, then I reckon you could be onto a winner.

Tim: And, blimey, that’s a seven year old dancepop track and no mistake, and it’s utterly wonderful.

Tom: A reminder here that “Everytime We Touch” is almost ten years now. And I didn’t agree with you until that almost 808-ish clap sample appeared: yep, this style is actually old-school now.

Tim: It’d sound completely out of place on a modern dance floor, of course, especially with that key change (because where the hell did that come from?), but I don’t care.

Tom: Hmm. See, while I like the style, what it’s missing is a decent hook, not a chorus that reminds me, oddly, of Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) — there’s a couple of similar musical phrases in there.

Tim: See for me it’s not the hook (or, as I suppose I should admit, the lack of one), but that rising and falling chiming at the back of the chorus, reminiscent of The Tamperer feat. Maya. That’s the part that really gets me going with this.

Tom: Hmm. I can see what you mean, but it’s just not that good a tune, perhaps even by the standards of those who are…

Tim: Stuck in the past with pop music tastes? Maybe I am, but fortunately Swedes like Em are around to provide plenty of satisfaction, and I’m very happy with this, actually jumping around my bedroom. Now all we new is a candlelight edit.

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Bjørnskov – Usynlig

Tom: CB, our reader, writes in with this suggestion. “I like his voice and it is pleasant enough,” says CB, “but I can’t find the chorus.”

Tim: Blimey, he must have got a bit bored standing in that town square. But yeah, there’s a chorus.

Tom: Well, there definitely is a chorus, but CB’s right that it does all merge together into a bit of a mush. There’s no sense of progression through the song — and that can work sometimes, but here it just makes the whole thing a little bit forgettable.

Tim: Maybe, possibly. I listened to it while I was colouring in my advent calendar for today so wasn’t paying immense attention to it, but it was a lovely soundtrack for doing that.

Tom: I won’t ask why you were colouring in your advent calendar.

Tim: Well, ’cause it’s a colouring in advent calendar, dummy. This isn’t an immense track, sure, but it’s very pleasant to listen to, and I’d disagree with you that there’s no progression – even if it’s fairly steady, there’s a definite sense of arrival when that final chorus comes along, and it’s one I like.

Tom: It’s… well, it’s nice.

Tim: It’s very nice.

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Shirley Clamp – En Afton i December

Tim: This year’s the tenth anniversary of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, and—

Tom: Oh heavens, she brought out her dance remix the same year as Band Aid 20? Bloody hell. What’ve we got now?

Tim: Well I was just about to tell you, actually – Shirley’s bringing out another Christmas track to keep us entertained. It’s not quite the massive party anthem that Do They Know It’s Christmas? is, but this is An Evening in December.

Tim: And that’s quite pretty, isn’t it? Conjuring pleasant images of sitting around a fireplace, playing charades or arguing over Monopoly.

Tom: It is, and I suppose that’s a perfectly valid choice for a Christmas track, but I can’t help wanting something more out of it.

Tim: I don’t know, I like it as a ballad. I say ic conjures nice images, mind, but I’m not sure what the rest of the lyrics are all about, so it might be about how terrible splitting up is around Christmastime; I do hope not, though.

Tom: Top quality Christmas music journalism right here, folks.

Tim: Well, it’s not on any lyrics sites, and Duolingo don’t do Swedish yet, so what am I meant to do? But we’re getting distracted. This is really just a lovely Christmassy ballad, climaxing in a lovely final chorus. Top work Shirley.

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Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red

Tim: It’s DECEMBER! So it’s CHRISTMAS!

Tom: Oh heavens. It’s time for the annual run-down of dodgy Christmas songs, is it?

Tim: Dodgy!? How RUDE. But yes, let’s have a week of the tracks we’ve missed so far, and you may recall last year Kelly brought out a Christmas album; this here’s the title track from it, now with a video.

Tom: Same album, new packaging. It’s like regifting.

Tim: In times of festivities and partyness it’s bit more restrained than Underneath the Tree, last year’s lead track from it, but that’s about it in terms of criticism: other than that, it’s a big emotional ballad about how, if Christmas isn’t a good time to declare your feelings, when is?

Tom: And it’s a really bloody good ballad as well. Kelly Clarkson is a big enough star that she can get her choice of big songs like this: it’s a brilliant track, and matched perfectly with her voice.

Tim: Exactly. So let’s all go out there, talk to our desired ones and damn the potential negative outcomes. Oh, and let’s be ridiculously over the top while we’re at it, shall we? That’s what it’s all about, after all.

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Saturday Flashback: Safri Duo – Samb Adagio

Tim: Ah, you bring the Other Safri Duo track.

Tom: Bit of a rough version of the radio edit on YouTube here, but let’s head back to the early 2000s, and remember two percussionists who were originally intending to do classical music.

Tom: They were the biggest Danish musicians since Aqua, and still one of the biggest trance acts to break through to the mainstream. This is everything that’s good about that early 2000s euphoric trance sound.

Tim: It is, it really is.

Tom: I still want to spend hours in a club dancing like a loon to songs just like this. I just wish they hadn’t mixed ridiculous crowd noise in, though.

Tim: Yeah, but if you’re spending hours in a club, you won’t notice it, will you? Unless it’s a very poor club, I suppose.

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Boy With Strings – Moments That Were Not

Tom: Saara, the lyricist for Boy With Strings, sends this in. We covered ‘Play Pretend’ earlier this year, and… well, we decided we weren’t really the right audience for ethereal indie-pop.

Tom: And I find myself having much the same reaction here: yes, it’s good, I can see it’s good, but I just can’t get all that excited about it.

Tim: Yeah – pleasant to listen to, but nothing much goes on during it, and after a while I find myself hurrying it along, especially at four minutes.

Tom: The trouble is, that it sounds a bit like a four-minute introduction: I keep expecting Something Bigger to happen, and it just doesn’t. This is the tone of the song, and I just can’t get used to it.

Tim: No – I want something else, or at the very least some form of beat to it.

Tom: Like I said, though: it’s good. It’s just not my cup of tea.

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    Tim Jeffries was born in the UK a good few years ago now, and regularly dreams of a Busted reunion.

    Along with good music, things he appreciates include the use of correct grammar, well-made banana daiquiris and shampoo for men that smells nice (which he still hasn't found). His favourite colour is what Dulux call 25YY 49/757, and his favourite member of the Felidae family is the snow leopard.

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    Tom Scott is a techie with extremely questionable taste in music. In his spare time, he has too many plans and a worrying tendency to make them happen.

    His greatest achievement was getting five gold runs on Blockbusters, which he still harps on about to this day.

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