Em Appelgren feat. Valence – Wicked

“A strange selection of instruments in here, aren’t there?”

Tim: Em Appelgren, a Swedish singer; Valence, an Australian producer; one question: are you up for it?

Tim: So for the first eight or nine seconds I was all “pineapples out, then”, but then that guitar twang hit, and I wondered if it was about to go a bit country on us. It wasn’t of course, but it did get me wondering what tropical country pop might sound like. Probably fairly awful, really, so let’s move on.

Tom: There are a strange selection of instruments in here, aren’t there? Synth pads, that country twang sample, and what sounds like the ‘whistle’ MIDI instrument off a cheap early 90s keyboard. It does sort-of work together, I suppose.

Tim: I quite like this track, largely because of the lyrics and how the unabashedly disgraceful lines like “join me if you’re open-minded” contrast slightly with the first verse’s projection of her as really quite a nice responsible person.

Tom: Bold choices in the middle eight: both the talking part and going acapella for a while. If you’re doing dance-pop that’s a long time to not have anything to dance to.

Tim: True, I suppose, though once that’s worn off it’s turned into very much a standard dance pop banger of a track, particularly around the end of the track when everything’s just chucked in together and stirred all over the place; I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, though. I’ll take it.

Elina – Wild Enough

“A piano ballad, about which I have multiple thoughts.”

Tim: Debut single from someone who’s previously stayed behind the scenes doing the writing; it’s a piano ballad, about which I have multiple thoughts.

Tom: That… is indeed a piano ballad. We don’t normally talk about those, because my reaction is likely to be even more ambivalent than usual. Which it is.

Tim: So, as a piano ballad, it’s good. The melody’s good, the vocal’s flawless, and I really do like the “wild enough, wild enough, wild enough” refrain, because it gets the message across without sounding irritatingly repetitive. HOWEVER: this just isn’t, well, wild enough. I get the point of the lyrics – that she is decidedly not a wild person, which is why they can’t be together, and yes the song really really fits it. But you know what’d fit it more? A string section.

Tom: Oh. Yes, you’re absolutely right. Yes, that’s what this is missing.

Tim: A beautiful, rolling understated string section, coming in after the first chorus, adding a little bit more emotion and bringing a lot more to the song. It got me in mind of Mika’s Happy Ending, and how outstanding a song that is, and how it wouldn’t be anywhere near as much without the violins underneath. This track is good, but it could be so much more.

Ivy Rei – Say It To My Face

“Well, that could be a lot worse.”

Tim: 300,000 followers on Instagram, so what else is there to do but start a pop career?

Tom: I mean, literally anything else, but sure, let’s go for this.

Tom: Well, that could be a lot worse.

Tim: Couldn’t it just? It is, pleasingly, a lot better than our previous Insta-celeb’s debut, despite Ivy only having a tenth the size of his follower count. In fact, I’d say its good enough that we can ignore the Instagram background and go straight for standard singer, albeit with a nice quick fanbase advantage.

Tom: Yes: both in terms of the production and the vocals. Given the chequered history of influencers-turned-pop-stars, this has turned out pretty well.

Tim: Strong guitar work, strong vocal work, strong electronic fiddly bits in the post-chorus. I have very few criticisms of this – really just one: more from the middle eight, please, or if you’re going to keep that dip then you’d be better returning with something bigger than what you had previously. Other than, though: top notch.

Dotter – Heatwave

‘Every part of it is just, “yes, this is what I want to hear in a song”.’

Tim: Follow-up to the Melodifestivalen entry Cry, with no small number of similarities.

Tim: So I really like this song – pretty much every part of it. Thing is, I don’t really have much to say about why I like it, though not in the sense that it’s generic, because it isn’t at all. It’s simply that every part of it is just, “yes, this is what I want to hear in a song”.

Tom: That’s because your brain wants to listen to You’ve Got The Love.

Tim: Hmmm…maybe…ish…

Tom: Okay, that’s a little harsh, the melody line is at least somewhat different, but this sounds like someone’s just applied the KLF’s Manual to Florence and the Machine and got this out of it.

Tim: The vocal is good, the instrumentation behind it is very good, and all in all it’s just…good. Really good.

Tom: You’re not wrong there, though. It’s not a bad track.

Tim: I feel I should be saying more, but I can’t really think of anything that needs saying.

Saturday Flashback: Melanie C – I Turn To You

“TOTAL. BANGER.”

Tim: So a couple of weeks back some random on Twitter posted that

Tom: The thankfully forgotten Gym & Tonic by Spacedust.

Tim: Oof, blimey.

Tom: Yeah, never mind. What did you get?

Tim: This TOTAL. BANGER.

Tom: I had forgotten quite how much NINETIES SYNTH there was in that. Actually, I’d forgotten most of it, but especially the NINETIES SYNTH.

Tim: Isn’t it fabulous? Now, depending on how you frame it, you can logically make a case for several of the Spice Girls to have had the most solo success, with the possible exception of Mel B.

Tom: Harsh. Judge on America’s Got Talent, presenter in Australia, television host in the UK? In terms of how many people around the world would recognise her in the street, I reckon she’s probably in the lead right now.

Tim: Ooh, hmm, maybe a bit harsh, then, I guess.

Tom: How about the others?

Tim: Geri Halliwell had the most number 1s, Victoria Beckham’s married to, well, David Beckham, and Emma Bunton’s got a steady gig on Capital Radio. On the other hand, Mel C has three of the top 5 best-selling solo singles, and came out with Northern Star, an album with one of the best killer:filler ratios ever; it is LOVELY, with the title track being criminally underappreciated at the time.

Tom: Or, you might say, even now.

Tim: And then there was this, a BRILLIANT dance pop number that I just couldn’t get enough of at the time, and to be honest still can’t now I’ve started playing it again. YES to this defining my life.

Studio Killers – Party Like It’s Your Birthday

“I’m currently on my third listen and it’s still going strong.”

Tim: Several years since their last single, and nothing whatsoever to do with 4.32kr, as I’m told he’s known in Sweden.

Tom: TIM.

Tim: 👍

Tim: Not half bad, is it? Certainly a good bit of fun, and I particularly that despite the high number of times that the titular line gets repeated, it doesn’t get tiring.

Tom: Okay, so full disclosure: on first listen, I liked Jenny, the last single of theirs we talked about. But I’ve now heard it a few times since and it is basically whatever the opposite of a “grower” is: the accordion riff now actively irritates me, and I skip past it any time it comes up.

Tim: I’m currently on my third listen and it’s still going strong. Style is strong, genre’s well executed, the video’s fun as well, and all round I kind of get the impression that everybody involved really quite enjoyed making this song. Which is good, because I enjoy listening to it.

Tom: So: yes, I think this is catchy. I really like it. It’s got some “Get Lucky” vibes about it. I think it could quite happily fit on a summer playlist. I just wonder if I’ll still enjoy it in a couple of weeks’ time.

Maja Francis – Girl Is A Gun

“Enough to get in your head but not quite enough to grate.”

Tim: You may remember Maja from a couple of months ago; I do, because I wanged on unduly about the use of camcorder fonts in lyric videos.

Tom: I don’t remember Maja, but I do remember your font rant.

Tim: The important stuff got through, then. Well, she’s back, and so is the font.

Tim: Now, last time you described the track as “a discount CHVRCHES”, which I guess could still be said here, but it does seem a bit unfair. Just because a song isn’t as good as the best output of the best in the genre, it doesn’t have to be described as an automatic negative.

Tom: True, I think that’s mostly because of Maja’s vocal quality: I don’t hear it as much here.

Tim: Good, because this is a really good track, and stands up well on its own.

Tom: Agreed: it’s a good chorus, repeated enough to get in your head but not quite enough to grate. I’m not sold on everything about it, but there’s certainly nothing unpleasant here.

Tim: From the moment it started I had an “ooh, yes” feeling, and that kept going right through to the end. I like it.

Rayne feat. Manda Malina – Hurricane

“Something that’d get picked by a national selection committee and sent straight to the Contest.“

Tim: Rayne’s a producer off America; Manda’s a singer off Sweden; Hurricane’s “a song about the constant battle in yourself when you want someone that you know is bad for you and you know you need to let go.”

Tom: Should I Stay Or Should I Go, then.

Tim: Not really, no. I mean, yes, but, oh, just listen.

Tim: Now, this is going to sound a bit harsh, but I genuinely mean it as a compliment: chopping out a few bars and rude words here and there, I can imagine this at Eurovision.

Tom: Huh, you’re not wrong there. Put like that, this seems like less of a song and more of a Statement. It’s something that’d get picked by a national selection committee and sent straight to the Contest.

Tim: Yeah, that sort of thing. Possibly not doing very well, or perhaps doing very well indeed, but it comes with the exact sense of drama that could be adapted incredibly well for the stage (helped, no doubt, by that video). Probably not coming from Sweden, or any of the standard ‘big’ countries – more somewhere like Macedonia, Estonia, Ukraine.

Tom: You know what? If it stood out in a field of Unremarkable Ballads, this could do well there.

Tim: Right – I’d sure as hell vote for it, because that chorus is flipping brilliant. I downright love this.

Tom: I’m not quite that enthusiastic, but at least it’s not an Unremarkable Ballad.

Dagny – Used To You

“I digress, considerably.”

Tim: Dagny has yet to disappoint us; pleasingly, I’m fairly sure this won’t either.

Tom: I was fairly sure, from the introduction, that I was going to disagree and say I didn’t like it: but, no, this isn’t bad at all.

Tim: It started off, I thought “ooh, this is nice and CHVRCHES-y”, and then it continued in that vein; I was hoping I could do a fun thing about it being exactly the same, just the opposite side of the Shetland Islands, but it turns out that Dagny lives in Tromsø, so according to Google Maps CHVRCHES are a full 300 miles closer to even Oslo, and that’s driving the long way round. But I digress, considerably.

Tom: Considerably.

Tim: It’s good music, very well produced electropop, and while I wouldn’t mind a bit of growth between the second chorus and the final section, I’m quite happy with it.

Tom: I think that’s true all through the song: it’s a good track, but it is almost the same throughout. There’s a lot of parts here that vaguely remind me of other songs, but I just can’t remember exactly what.

Tim: Yeah – I would like to know why that “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-a-aah-a-aaaa” is so familiar…

NorthKid – MONO

“This is in stereo. I feel cheated.”

Tim: We first met this lot with their debut last November, and were somewhat positive; here’s song number two.

Tom: This is in stereo. I feel cheated.

Tim: First thing first: that chorus is a cracker. The melody’s great, the sound’s even better, and it’s not too bad an analogy.

Tom: Shame about that “solo/so low” rhyme, but you’re right. Also, I’d like to give credit for that build in the pre-chorus, that incredible middle eight, and the backing in the final chorus. I actually went back to listen to just the middle eight a second time. There’s a lot of good in here.

Tim: But the song did get me wondering: will it ever not be weird when things like Instagram come up in lyrics? Because I’ve only just about got on board with ‘text’, though even that stuck out a bit, and I’m trying to imagine a future in which Instagram washes over me as easily as does the Chevy that got taken to the levee.

I kind of hope it’ll come, because then I’ll be able to enjoy the great sound here without being distracted.