Smith & Thell – Dumb

“Please, don’t delete this.”

Tim: New discovery: about two and a half years ago, Smith & Thell removed roughly everything they had every done from the internet, and indeed elsewhere: YouTube videos and SoundCloud tracks all gone, no songs on Spotify or up for purchase, anywhere. All gone, completely.

Tom: Well, that’s bold. Dramatic PR stunt, getting angry with old work, or a Big Massive Change In Direction?

Tim: Big Massive Change In Direction: from dancey numbers like Kill It With Love (still up unofficially in dodgy quality on Vimeo if you want to remind yourself) to more boring standard guitar stuff. So it’s slightly understandable – forget the past, we don’t do that any more – until you realise that actually, their new track is very much closer to the old stuff.

Tom: You’re not wrong there.

Tim: In fact, what we’ve got is a really, really good blend of the two styles, with a U2-esque beginning, and continuing undercurrent, of guitars and drums and standard band-style singing, which then quickly adds on some synths and develops eventually full-blown dance banger territory for the second chorus and what follows. And I absolutely love that idea.

Tom: It does, but there’s something wrong with the production here, or at least in the version that’s been sent up to YouTube. Everything’s been gated so loudly that it’s difficult to make out the vocals: there’s no headroom anywhere in there. There’s a really great vocal quality hidden in there, but it’s been pushed so loud and limited so heavily that it’s almost painful to listen to at times.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: Yes, I’m complaining about the ‘loudness war’, but it’s rare to actually make such a difference. Either that or my ears are blocked.

Tim: Well, I kind of get what going for (and it’s not YouTube, the studio version’s the same), but I don’t find it a problem. The two styles are blended together so so well, and it’s a track I can listen to many times over, particularly once you add the great “luh-luh-luh-love me” bit in that pre-chorus which I find a particular highlight. And that higher melody in the middle eight? Also great. In fact it’s ALL GREAT. So please, don’t delete this.

Causes – Let It Rain

“It didn’t need another chorus, it just needed a bigger final one.“

Tim: Causes, a Netherlands based band, who…

Tom: Are covering East 17?

Tim: Again, the wrong option you’ve jumped in with. No, it’s a new song, and to find out more you can just read the video.

Tom: Well, that’s a really irritating video.

Tim: It is slightly distracting, yes, as I was paying so much attention to reading their story that I had to go back to remind myself what the track was like.

Tom: Yep, background tab right away.

Tim: Fortunately, re-listening didn’t bother me so much because it’s a damn good track that I’ll happily listen to multiple times. The sound is good from the start, it brings a great happy message (‘let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, before you know it you’ll be dry again’ is a lovely lyric).

Tom: I’m not sure it’s enough, really, but it’s… well, it’s inoffensive. I’ll admit I felt unsatisfied by the ending: despite there being one additional vocal line, that last chorus feels about the same as the first one. Just when it feels like the track might be going somewhere, it stops dead. It didn’t need another chorus, it just needed a bigger final one.

Tim: You might be right there, I suppose, but all in all it just seems…nice. And right now, I’ll take that.

Per Gessle feat. Helene Josefsson – Name You Beautiful

“It’s genuinely lovely, isn’t it?”

Tim: Lots of things have Official Songs, particularly sport tournaments.

Tom: Augh, we’re not doing the Big Horrible Corporate-Sponsored World Cup Song, are we?

Tim: What, with its lyric that is literally just Coca-Cola’s advertising strapline?no, no we’re not. Instead, right now it’s the turn of the 2018 World Table Tennis Championship.

Tom: Never mind.

Tim: It kicks off in a couple of weeks in Helmstad in Sweden, and here’s the song, with a lot of things to like about it.

Tom: Huh. Bluegrass fiddle. That is not something you usually hear in pop music. Neither is that vocal quality, and to be fair, neither’s that key change.

Tim: No, and yet I think we’d all benefit if that situation changed. I heard it on my standard New Music Friday playlist when I was in the shower, and got out just a few seconds before the key change came along, and suddenly my day was all set to be happy and fun. The strings leapt back in, Helene’s vocal and upbeat lyrics returned, and the whole thing just put me in a really, really good mood. Obviously I played it again, and could hear the rest of the song properly (particularly that fantastic middle eight), and yep – it’s made me feel really, really great.

Tom: It’s genuinely lovely, isn’t it? It’s not going to light up the world any time soon, but it’s actually got a really good balance between regular pop structures, interesting new things, and good composition, performance and production.

Tim: In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a song that’s had this effect on me in quite some time, maybe not since I first heard voXXclub a few months back. I love it.

Saturday Reject: Alfred – Que Not Sigan Las Luces

“Gold-painted boobs on his jacket, but I’ll overlook that.”

Tim: One of the things I like about watching the various selection shows live is the communal experience that Twitter provides – in fact, one of my proudest moments is still when I drunkenly yelled at Portuguese broadcaster RTP asking what their official hashtag was so I could join in. The drawback, on the other hand, is that I typically come up with a quick one liner but have nothing else to say. This may be quite a short post, then, but for this, from Spain: “Slytherin’s entry to a Hogwarts Battle of the Bands.”

Tim: I stand by that, mind, for a variety of reasons: there are green lights, they’ve got Proper Instruments, and the song’s not particularly brilliant.

Tom: Wait, what? I think this is my favourite Reject so far this year. It’s got a horn section! It’s got a lovely melody! It’s got a competent live singer, too, who admittedly appears to be wearing gold-painted boobs on his jacket, but I’ll overlook that.

Tim: Oh, all of that’s true – it’s certainly very enjoyable, and I suppose I may have come across as a bit harsh earlier. It also got a hell of a reaction from the audience, which counts for a lot – though it did very poorly in the televote.

Tom: Admittedly it’s also pretty unoriginal. There’s nothing actually ripped off here, as far as I can tell, but I’ll bet you can find that chord progression in a lot of places; basically, this sounds like a lot of old indie-pop songs that I like, so therefore I also like it.

Tim: There’s also a dedication to frequently being as loud as possible, right down to shouting the last chorus line which is actually about whispering his secrets to the song’s target (presumably his girlfriend Amaia, who you’ll recall we met last week). Obviously this would entirely not do well at Eurovision – unless you’re Lordi, actual bands are Not A Good Idea – but it’s not a bad entry, and since Alfred ended up as part of the winning duo, no-one’s really lost out.

Tom: You’re right that it probably wouldn’t do well at Eurovision, which I think is a shame. I’d have given it full marks.

Davai – Loco

“Yep, that is certainly an interesting lyric.”

Tim: Nice quick Friday dance number for you, and there’s a lyric in the chorus here that’s a nice cross between quite weird and pretty good.

Tom: “Doing our thing like Yoko Ono.” Well, yep, that is certainly an interesting lyric.

Tim: Hard to know whether ‘our thing’ involves breaking up bands or living with deep and strong philosophies, but I’m hoping it’s the latter because that’s a lot more pleasant, and a bit more inspirational as well. Take that thought, and then just a few seconds later dance all over the place inspired by it, because this is a good song to dance to.

Tom: I think I’ve gotten numb to dance tracks lately. This is another one where I just go “yep, that’s a dance track” and then move on. What is there to say?

Tim: Nice combination between good beat and strong melody, and while it would of course be improved as a straight dance track if the beat kept up underneath at least the second verse, I guess that’s what remixes are for. It’s nice, and I like it.

Tom: Okay, yes, there is that to say. It does its job. Maybe I just need to listen to something different for a while, and then come back, but right now I’d love a dance track to something interesting, different and — crucially — uplifting. It’s just not happening right now.

Dada Life – Higher Than The Sun

“Apparently I’ve got literally nothing to say about this.”

Tim: This Swedish dance outfit’s most recent track, One Nation Under Lasers, released a few days ago, got sent in to us yesterday, but it’s a bit noisy and not very pleasant. This previous one, though, just a few weeks old so still nice and relevant, is quite a bit nicer.

Tom: Nicer, or just… well, it turns out I don’t actually have any adjectives that sum up “I literally can’t remember any of this after it finished”.

Tim: Oh, Well, I say quite a bit nicer for two reasons: firstly, there’s the existence of a vocal, which not only here has a great tune to it but also serves to take attention away from the slightly less great underlying synth line. For me, that might be a bit too heavy otherwise, as that’s certainly my problem with the vocal-less follow-up. Here, though, we’ve got that chorus, with its simple but lovely melody, to keep the focus.

Secondly, of course, there’s the video, which has a more interesting narrative than part two, viewable at the above link.

Tom: I’m just not sold. Maybe it’s that I was distracted watching the video — but it also says a lot that I wasn’t really watching the narrative, just trying to work out how the animators made the shadows move properly. I… yeah, apparently I’ve got literally nothing to say about this.

Tim: Upsettingly, that second part still doesn’t explain where the green guy came from – maybe that’ll be an exciting revelation in part three, and I’m hoping it’ll be something nicer than just a big bogey that was stuck in the wine.

Tom: Mate.

Tim: 👍

Owl City – New York City

“We have Mr City to turn to as a reliable source of pop music that can be counted on to sound just fine.”

Tim: Chances are, you hear “Owl City”, you think “cheery and largely inoffensive pop”, correct?

Tom: And a really good soundtrack to a Disneyland parade.

Tim: Ooh, that is really good, and you’ll be delighted to hear his new one does absolutely nothing to counter that assumption.

Tom: You’re not wrong there. Those lyrics are… well, yes, “chirpy” is certainly about right, although I feel like “did you forget your phone cord / we’ll buy one at the next small town” might be a contender for the worst lyric of 2018.

Tim: It is enjoyable, it is chirpy, it is a complete summation of Owl City. And you know what? I like that. I like that in these turbulent times, when it sometimes feels like everything is turning to poo, we have Mr City to turn to as a reliable source of pop music that can be counted on to sound just fine.

Tom: And, even if I can’t get behind the words, at least there’s a pleasingly generic Americana road-trip video to watch. Which is basically what I expected.

Tim: You might not get anything special, but you know you’ll get something nice and listenable. And that’s reassuring.

Paul Simon – Graceland (MK & KC Lights Remix)

“Does it really add anything that wasn’t there before?”

Tom: I was running through the list of ‘forthcoming UK singles’, and I noticed something bizarre. The old Paul Simon song, Graceland. While beautiful, it’s very much Radio 2 music. What on earth is it doing as a new single, remixed? And why on earth have they uploaded it to his actual Vevo channel?

Tom: The answer is, of course, “cash-in remix album“.

Tim: A phrase that’s never sat well with me, indicating as it does that it’s cheap, there’s no point to it and that not much effort was put in, and sometimes none of those is true. One example: the TRON: Legacy Reconfigured album of remixes of the soundtrack, on which a number of remixes are even better than their originals. Having said that…not so sure here.

Tom: And I agree with you, Tim, that a good remix can elevate a song — or even turn a slow guitar track into a big, ironic commercial dance hit. This is certainly a cut above most commercial remixes, but does it really add anything that wasn’t there before?

Tim: Aside from large elements of Paul Oakenfold? Not so much.

Saturday Reject: Aitana, Alfred, Amaia, Ana Guerra & Miriam – Carina

“Messy as it may be, it’s a good way to open the show.”

Tim: Spain was a weird format this year: they took the top six contestants of their version of Fame Academy (yep, that’s still on) and then, through various groups, duets and soloists, had nine songs for the public to vote for. This, written by all of them and sung by all except Agoney, came dead last, but as a first performance was nonetheless a good way to open the show.

Tom: I wonder what Agoney did? And why Miriam is the only one without a name starting with A?

Tim: Maybe some sort of conspiracy?

Tom: Anyway.

Tim: So let’s try to move past the fact that the first chorus line is in fact Cecilia, and try to judge the rest of it and, well, it’s not the greatest.

Tom: I was turned off it entirely by that bit where they have just an instant of silence. It almost hurts.

Tim: It seems to serve more as a preview of what’s coming up than anything else. The one in the dark red with a style that doesn’t really match up, the guy and her with the ridiculous skirt who sing at each other, and her in the pink jacket being very very Spanish? Yep, you’ll see all of those later if you keep watching. On the other hand, messy as it may be – like I said, it’s a good way to open the show. On that level, it works.

Tom: It is a great show opening. I can’t fault it. There’s some good vocal showoffs, it’s pleasant enough, It’s just not a good Eurovision song.

Tim: Incidentally, the aforementioned guy and skirt? That’s the pairing that went on to win, with a performance that’s basically soft porn; they’re also an actual couple that formed in the competition house, and it’ll be bloody hilarious if they split up acrimoniously before May and still have to play sweethearts.

CHVRCHES – Never Say Die

“THIS IS HOW TO DO IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.”

Tim: If you were hoping for a break from the female-fronted electro pop theme that this week has seemingly developed, I’ve got bad news for you, because here’s the Queen of Scots herself to defend her throne.

Tim: Oh, and boy oh boy can she defend her throne.

Tom: THIS IS HOW TO DO IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Tim: Blimey, that’s a reaction.

Tom: Now the question is, am I saying that because I like CHVRCHES’s sound already, or because this is a good track on its own merits? I’d like to think it’s the second, because that synth that leads into the chorus comes out of nowhere, and it doesn’t sound like them, and yet I still went “oh, that’s good”.

Tim: I have very similar views to that: true, it doesn’t sound like their typical track, as it’s a lot bassier than previously, but damn is this good. Normally I hate a fade out ending, as should most sensible people, but I can forgive it slightly when it’s an instrumental fade out and the instrumental is this good. Also, like you, I fully accept that if this weren’t by CHVRCHES but instead by some other band, I might not have this much enthusiasm for it, or be as willing to forgive that, and that by extension I may technically be falling into the trap that the Norwegians fell into when they chose Alexander Rybak to represent them at Eurovision with an atrocious song.

Tom: I still think that’s going to win.

Tim: Ugh, please no. What I might think of the song if it weren’t by CHVRCHES is slightly irrelevant, mind, because this is by CHVRCHES, and I bloody love it, and NOTHING you say will stop me. So there.