Saturday Flashback: Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me (Christmas Mix)

“This seems like an exceptional example.”

Tim: You say cheap and easy Christmas cash cow.

Tom: I do, for basically everything we’re covering this week, but this seems like an exceptional example.

Tim: I say a simple way to make sure an October release stays around long enough to get on the work Christmas party playlist, and now I’ve had that thought I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Anyway, slow and tedious country song, turned into a pretty good dance tune, now all Christmassed up.

Tim: So, regarding the ‘cheap remix’ accusations that will inevitably be thrown at this.

Tom: I mean, “accusations” is putting it mildly, if anyone spent more than a fiver on this remix I’ll be surprised.

Tim: There’s evidence here that some thought has actually gone into it. You’ve obviously got your copy and paste jingle bells on every other beat, and your find and replace drum beats for church bells plus drum beat, but there’s more. Listen in the quiet instrumental bit, from about a minute in, and behind there you’ve got quiet tinkles following the actual melody, rather than the standard jingle bells, and that shows actual thought. Yes, you could put the regular ones on, no-one would complain, it would fine. But no – there’s time and thought gone into this, which I like a lot. It impresses me.

Tom: One week into Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive, and Tim, all I can say is that you’re easily impressed.

Tim: What can I say, I just love Christmas. I’ve got time.

Robin Bengtsson – Born To Love

“At least you were spared the heartbreak.”

Tim: Came out a few weeks ago, and while it’s not a Christmas track it does take place on a cold dark night in December, so I figured it could wait. And be warned: there’s emotion here, so you might want to keep the tissues nearby.

Tom: If a Christmas track actually raises any sort of deep emotion from my cold, cold heart, Tim — even sympathy or sadness — you can consider “Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive” a success. I don’t hold out much hope.

Tim: Now, it’s not often I get emotionally involved with a track – the last time I can remember it happening, in fact, was when Gary and Agnetha reminisced five years ago (and incidentally, the lyric video gave that the happy ending I was wanting, so that’s lovely). But this track, for some reason, really got to me, and I hadn’t even been drinking. Truth is, it’s a beautiful song – the melody is fantastic, his vocal really sells it, and then there’s the lyrics.

Tom: I’ll be honest, reader: given the setup and that we’re only three songs into the month, you can probably figure out where my response is going here.

Tim: Thing is, I don’t want this sad ending. I want him to change – or rather, I want him to realise that actually, she can change him. He’s not found anyone yet, but instead of giving up, the song’s target persists, and eventually he realises he was born to love. He was born to have a fantastic life, born to marry this fantastic person, born to have beautiful kids, and, sixty years down the line, born to be spending the cold dark nights in December in a lovely warm cottage, surrounded by a devoted family. So keep the first few verses – paint him as a tragic figure. But towards the end, fiddle with the lyrics, Robin. Give yourself some hope, some sign of a future, so that you’re not living in yesterday’s house at the end of the road. Because dammit, it’s Christmas. Can’t you try for some happiness?

Tom: I’m sure that was a heartwarming suggestion, Tim, but unfortunately half way through the track I fell asleep.

Tim: Well in that case at least you were spared the heartbreak.

Bella & Filippa – Ring Them Bells

“It’s a cut above most of the dreck you send over at Christmas.”

Tim: Until now, this pairing were only known for the 2017 Melodifestivalen entry, the quick moving, guitar strumming Crucified. With a debut album apparently on the way for next year, though, when better to get back into the game than the official Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Tom: Literally any other time, Tim. It’s like going to the shops on Christmas Eve: everyone else is dashing there too. Also, it should be “Ring Those Bells”, if I’m going to be grumpy about it.

Tim: Oh no.

Tim: So I’m going for an unusual strategy today, because I’ll go right ahead and say it: this is not a great Christmas track. Or even a particularly good one.

Tom: And I’m also going for an unusual response: this… isn’t… bad?

Tim: What?

Tom: I mean, it’s a cut above most of the dreck you send over at Christmas. Why don’t you like it?

Tim: It’s too slow; there’s a long time before anything interesting happens; overall it just drags a bit. But dammit, there’s potential here – that “house at the end of the road” melody is lovely; the chorus, while repetitive isn’t of itself bad; and the ‘look out for the lonely people’ message is lovely.

Tom: It’s blurring the line between schlager and country, as often happens. But, yes, I’ll grant you that it’s slow — at two minutes in I was assuming we were going for the final chorus, but no, we weren’t even half way through.

Tim: Now, let’s improve it. We can’t bin off everything before forty seconds in (which would lower the general dullness score), because it’d ruin the narrative, but we can use it as a springboard, much like Mariah does with here “iiii-ii-i-isss yooo-ooo-oo-ooou” moment. Obviously don’t bring it up as enormously as that does, but if you’re not having a chorus there you’ve got to do something. Bring the next verse, and subsequent ones, up to the level of the chorus. Dial the choruses up even further, to where the existing end ones are like (though you can leave the upper vocals for the end). Finally, speed it up – played at 1.25x through YouTube, it’s a bit better.

Tom: I’m not convinced that the speed change improves it, but you’re right: it does need something else. Or, perhaps, one verse less.

Tim: Then, and only then, might you have a good song. As it is, it’s not going to end up on my Christmas playlist – and hell, I’ve got 50 Grand For Christmas on there.

Charli XCX & Troye Sivan – 1999

Tim: Charli XCX, creator of fine pop music. Troye Sivan, likewise. Should be a good song, then, as long was you’re up for some nostalgia?

Tim: And actually, despite a rocky start which was getting me all ready to be disappointed, I got on bored fairly soon. I think it was the first ‘ooooh’ that made it – although the backing didn’t get any less brash, it did provide a slightly gentle jumping on point, and from then on I could absolutely cope with it. Not going to come out and say I actively like it, mind – I’m all for a bit of nostalgia, but however much of a state we might be right now, things are definitely better overall – but musically at least, I can deal with it.

Keala Settle, Kesha & Missy Elliott – This Is Me

“This… is not an improvement”

Tim: So here’s a fun thing: since The Greatest Showman is so brilliant, and the soundtrack is still an amazing album, they’ve done a new version of it, getting big name artists to do their own versions of the songs, and called it The Greatest Showman: Reimagined. Some of them sound basically identical; some are considerably less good; there’s also this. (You may want to reacquaint yourself with the original first.)

Tom: I remember describing the original as “so polished you could slip on it and crack your head”. And this… is not an improvement, I don’t think?

Tim: Me neither. It took me by surprise when I was just listening to the album, as I’m sure you’d expect, and to be honest I really don’t know how well it works. I certainly get what they were going for, but is it just me, or does the rapping hang around for too long? The second part works a little bit better, because halfway through you’ve got some backing vocals coming in halfway through, but I can’t help feeling this might be a little bit improved with that first part only lasting half as long.

Tom: Possibly, but if you’re going to get actual Missy Elliott in to be on the track, you want to get your money’s worth.

Tim: Fair, but at least chop it in two, and put the second half after the first chorus – as it is, coming right at the beginning after a very short intro and with no indicator when it might stop, it just seems to drag a bit, before the meat of the song comes along. Just me?

Tom: Not just you.

Brother Leo – Push Up

“Look, love, I know you’re interested, so do you wanna just get over here or what?”

Tim: “Look, love, I know you’re interested, so do you wanna just get over here or what?”

Tom: This sounds like an interesting track.

Tom: Well, that sounds uncomfortably like Blurred Lines in places, doesn’t it? I mean, not in the message, thankfully, but it feels like there’s at least a little inspiration there. Or at least, the same inspiration that Blurred Lines got sued for.

Tim: Yeah, and it’s not often I find myself really, really liking this genre of music. The funky, soul type stuff (which is apparently what this is inspired by) has never really got me going much, and I downright hated Blurred Lines. Every now and again, though, a track like this will come along that I just really enjoy, and think “ooh, this is fun”. Because it is, isn’t it? The message in the lyrics and the video both help a lot, I think, adding to the fun vibe that it’s got going on throughout, and all round it’s just pretty…nice.

Tom: “Nice” can be damning with faint praise. For me, it is: there’s a lot to like here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea. You sure you want to go with “nice”?

Tim: Oh, well not when you put it like that. Better than nice. Certainly relistenable.

Emma Steinbakken – Not Gonna Cry

“It’s Big Heavy Instrumentation and a really, really good voice.”

Tim: She’s Norwegian, she’s 15 years old, and– actually, here’s something I’ve never thought to ask before: how do young kids like this end up making music? Do they wander up to a record label’s A&R office and start warbling, or do talent scouts go to school performances and stuff, or what? Because both of those seem really quite weird and/or creepy.

Tom: These days, YouTube, I guess? Other than that, probably pushy parents.

Tim: Hmm, maybe. Anyway, here’s Emma, with some upsettingly rude language coming from someone so young.

Tom: You’re right that this sounds like a song that’s too old for a 15-year-old. But leaving that aside: I like that, for the same reasons that I liked Astrid S’s Emotion a few weeks back. It’s Big Heavy Instrumentation and a really, really good voice. Whatever this genre’s called, it works for me.

Tim: So here’s the thing: I get this song. I appreciate, and I understand what’s good about it – it’s intense in the heavy parts and it’s vulnerable in the quiet parts, the vocals are on point and, as you say, the Big Heavy Instrumentation all works well. But…I don’t really like it. Bits of it I like, and there’s a lot I’m impressed by. There’s just, no compulsion to hit that replay button.

Tom: And there’s the problem. Because as ever, my tests for pop music are: can I hum the chorus after one listen? Do I want to replay it? For this song, it’s a no to both — which is a shame because while it was playing, I thought it was great.

Tim: Shame, really, as I’d like to like it. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Saturday Flashback: Helene Fischer – Atemlos durch die Nacht

“Anyone who describes it as even slightly awful really needs to go and get their ears cleaned out.”

Tim: It emerged this week that Helene Fischer is, in cash terms, the eighth most successful female artist in the world, and so quite naturally someone in the Guardian wrote about her, and schlager in general, and described the music as ‘frankly awful’. Fortunately, we’re here to say: bollocks to that.

Tom: That is… okay, it’s not ‘frankly awful’, but I’m not going to rate it above ‘okay’. Is that a new one?

Tim: That’s Helene’s most successful song, from 2013, and anyone who describes it as even slightly awful really needs to go and get their ears cleaned out. The title translates as Breathless Through The Night, and it’s about having the most amazing night out with someone, staying right up through till sunrise, being inseparable and immortal and just having one hell of a good time.

Tom: I’ll grant you that, by the last chorus, I was on board with it (well done to whoever added that whoop at 2:24). It’s good! It’s above average, even! But I’m baffled as to why it’s the most popular song of the eighth-most-moneyed female artist.

Tim: And if this was playing on my night out? I would be absolutely right there with Helene. Let’s be honest, anyone who doesn’t appreciate that deserves to be pitied more than anything else. Because it’s FABULOUS.

Benjamin – Juon sut pois

“He’s not taking his breakup very well. At all.”

Tim: Benjamin is…well, let’s just say he’s not taking his breakup very well. At all. (Video gets a bit disturbing at the end, you can stop it once the music’s finished.)

Tom: All that effort, all that long take, all that ruining his hair, and someone leaves “.mp4” in the video when they upload it. I mean, yes, that’s clearly a big emotional cathartic moment, but “.mp4”? Really? Anyway, yeah, the song. Big emotions, I guess?

Tim: He’s screwed up, he’s saying he’s sorry, but she ain’t having any of it, so naturally he’s wraping himself up in cling film and getting rid of his lovely hair, because what else is there to do? For all the unnecessary drama of the video, though, this is actually a track I can get on board with. Even without that video, the chorus still has a lot of emotional baggage with it, which depending on my mood may well get me shouting out and singing along.

Tom: It’s a good chorus, you’re right! Although I’m not sure how you’re singing along.

Tim: It is a bit tricky with it being in Finnish, I’ll grant you, but I’ll go with poison and pretty much get the same idea. Hefty music, hefty vocals, hefty song. I like it.

Andreas Wijk – NuMb ❄︎

“I’m really happy for you! Guess what!”

Tom: Our first emoji in a title! I wondered how long it’d be.

Tim: Yeah – I don’t know why there’s a snowflake in the title of this song, not do I know why it’s not on the artwork but is on everything else to do with the song. Probably for the same reason the M is capitalised; again, though, no idea. Shall we have a listen anyway?

Tom: I bet it’s less exciting than the emoji in the title.

Tim: Now, I don’t know exactly how to describe the type of chorus that this is that I quite like – the male vocal that’s partly shouty but still with enough non-shoutiness to convey proper emotion. It’s on display here, and also, taking one example that springs to mind, Oscar Zia’s Human from a couple of years back. Perhaps an acquired taste, but when it’s done properly it just seems to do it for me.

Tom: I’m really happy for you! Guess what!

Tim: It doesn’t do it for you?

Tom: It doesn’t do anything for me, and I’m wondering if my ears are burnt out or something. So many pop tracks, so few that actually make me sit up and listen.

Tim: That’s a shame, because here I’m happy to say that it is done properly, and it does do it for me – and that that pretty much infects the rest of the song, providing an enjoyable voice and an overall decent song. Still don’t get the snowflake, mind, but I’ll let it pass.