Hanne Leland – Underdogs


Tim: Our reader Bjørnar sends this in for our consideration, Hanne’s latest, with a nice inspiring message for all the sad losers out there. According to Hanne it started out life as a piano ballad, which is a version I’d be interested in hearing because the final version…really isn’t.

Tom: Yeah, those synths in the intro are about as far from piano ballad as you can get.

Tim: So, first listen, I didn’t really get into it until a minute twenty, the first time the chorus kicked in properly – before then, it was too calm, there was nothing to really get my teeth into. Then the backing vocals came in, though, it got a nice hook going on, and then that lovely “oh this will unite us” post-chorus comes along.

Tom: That is definitely the highlight of the track.

Tim: The whole thing becomes absolutely fabulous, to the extent that I can throw off the slight amount of negativity I instinctively felt with the twee “we’re all special, yeah, even you guys” message (though apparently the lyrics are “really close to my heart”, so let’s not be too dismissive). Second around and beyond – that first chorus brings back that hook, and it’s great. LOSERS UNITE!

Tom: AT LEAST FOR THE POST-CHORUS because the rest isn’t that much to write home about and “we’re the underdogs” gets a bit tedious a bit quickly sorry

Berislav – I Gave My Life

Tim: “Duran Duran meets Game of Thrones” says the subject line of the PR email for this Croatian guy’s track, and apparently, this song’s “the first part of a trilogy, the beginning of a dramatic journey, the clash between life and death.” Standard overblown guff, you might think, once you throw in the “utterly unique” and “tour de force”, and, well, have a listen.

Tim: It reminds me of the brief trend in the mid-noughties for sticking dance music on top of orchestral backing, largely because that’s exactly what this is, and I like that. The voice works on top of it, and the Duran Duran vibes are…yeah, I’ll give them that. For what it wants to be doing as a song, it’s fairly good. I do wonder if they’re overhyping the whole project a bit, though, as for all they’re bigging up the video, it’s no more overblown or arty than we’ve seen in previous ones. Hell, compared to Alan Walker’s trilogy opener it’s really rather tame.

Still, listenable track, though.

DAVID44 – Truth

“Nope. Sorry.”

Tim: Another capitalised Scandinavian, and this time we’ve got some numbers thrown in as well for good measure. This is a song I’ve been back and forth about featuring for a week or so now, largely because I’m fairly sure you probably won’t like it. Here it is anyway, though.

Tom: You’re right! Well, not quite. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that I find it difficult to have any strong opinion about chilled house like this.

Tim: Right, because it does slot in nicely to the chilled house genre that we’ve debated before, and while I’m not expecting to make you a convert any time soon, I do still want to share it. I’m prepared for a “don’t be ridiculous” here, but it’s not so far removed from the recent Calvin Harris/Sam Smith track Promises – vulnerable male vocal over an understated backing – and for me it works. Any chance for you?

Tom: Nope. Sorry. It’s… well, it’s music.

LÉON – Falling

“Finding out this was a four-minute track did not help my reaction.”

Tim: We’ve never featured LÉON (apparently the capitals are necessary) before, though she’s been going a while.

Tom: If you’re going to have a name that’s all in capitals like that, then in my head it’s going to be SHOUTED every TIME. Anyway, who’s LÉON?

Tim: She’s off Sweden, and her latest is this.

Tim: Want to break up, get back together, need to break up again, rinse and repeat until you get a fairly listenable track from it – a process that’s worked for many other acts, and I’m fairly sure it mostly works here as well, no?

Tom: I mean, it does, but that’s a load-bearing “mostly” in that sentence.

Tim: Well, yeah. Sure, we’ve competent vocals and a strong backing, but it doesn’t half sound a little bit slow, to the extent that even by the three minute mark I was thinking “blimey, are we not done yet?”.

Tom: That kicked in at two minutes thirty for me. Finding out this was a four-minute track did not help my reaction.

Tim: Aside from that, it’s fine: nice to listen to, wouldn’t complain about hearing it. Though I think that there is a textbook example of ‘damning with faint praise’, isn’t it?

Tom: Welcome to the club, Tim.

Penthox – Call Upon

“There’s always something that doesn’t seem right, isn’t there?”

Tim: He’s from Sweden, he’s young-ish (Soundcloud bio says 18, but the account’s been there since 2013, so who knows), and he makes stuff like this, his latest.

Tim: And I like that.

Tom: Huh. I wasn’t expecting to for some reason — it’s probably just my standard unimpressed-by-default — but I perked up at just the intro and verse.

Tim: Admittedly, I don’t really have much to say beyond that, but as a dance track, it pushes all the right buttons. Sometimes – hell, frequently — that’s all I need. A track I like, and can ‘wooooo’ along to when the time comes for it.

Tom: The trouble is, Tim: I don’t like those ‘wooooo’s. The rest isn’t bad at all, particularly that pre-chorus, but… agh, there’s always something that doesn’t seem right, isn’t there?

Tim: Sadly, it seems so.

Galantis – Emoji

“This is a good track apart from the lyrics and the video.”

Tim: Not entirely sure how you’ll feel about this video, Tom (although that might be a lie, because I’m almost certain I know how you’ll feel), but bear in mind it’s only 2 minutes and 48 seconds long.

Tom: This is a good track apart from the lyrics and the video.

Tim: Part of me wants to brush my hands together, smile, turn and walk away and just let you loose on this one with the knowledge that my work here is done, really, but the other part of me wants to argue passionately in favour of this. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of sending a disturbingly anthropomorphised heart to guilt trip your other half into not giving up on you while you’re away, and to grow large and bright when you’re getting ready to see her again? It’s just SO CUTE.

Tom: Mm. I’m not going to rise to the bait, except to say that: songs with references like this date incredibly quickly, and if you have to deliberately mis-emphasise a word to fit the rhyme scheme, perhaps you should just write the song about something else.

Tim: Oh. Can’t deny I’m a tad disappointed, but you’re not wrong.

Saturday Flashback: Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices

“She’s acting well enough to actually make it look like she believes it.”

Tim: So, you know how, on occasion, if you’re out for an evening in a club or wherever, you hear a song that you’ve never heard before, or might have forgotten, and feel it to be absolutely amazing, and then get remarkably obsessed with it over the next few days?

Tom: I remember, many years ago, having that happen for Special D’s Come With Me. 2004, there.

Tim: Ah, what a track that was, and indeed still is. For me, the most recent example is this, which I played a good few dozen times last weekend, after a FABULOUS night out.

Tom: Well, not only is she belting that out with a lot of power, but she’s acting well enough to actually make it look like she believes it. Or, perhaps, she actually does believe it.

Tim: Hmm, she’d be in quite the minority of her compatriots if she did, given the number of rainbow flags flying that evening, but sure, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt – Europe certainly did, with it actually beating Måns’s winner in the televote.

Tom: Side note: does someone fix a light at 2:09 or something, or is that a miscue? I’m fairly sure the backing singers aren’t meant to suddenly be spotlit like that.

Tim: Huh, yes, that is weird. Musically, mind, we could talk about clichés all day long – that ‘hold off on the main drums until she mentions them in the inspirational lyrics’ is as textbook as they come, and absolutely brilliant – but all in all this is a terrific track (with brilliant staging, dodgy lights aside) and as far as a room full of drunk gays in a club in London was concerned, seemingly the best song to have been performed in the world ever. Until the next one came along, anyway.

RaeLynn – Tailgate

“Modern pop-country is basically just schlager with different instrumentation.”

Tom: This is not Europop, Tim. This is as far from Europop as you can get. It’s pop-country. But I’m driving through the US at the moment, and I tuned to a country station, and found that I was smiling at this chorus. The song’s a few months old, but the video is new:

Tim: Oh, that really is a good chorus. Got me swaying and everything.

Tom: And this is why I mention it: I maintain that modern pop-country is basically just schlager with different instrumentation. Here’s why: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus, done in just over three minutes. Catchy chorus that you can sing by the end of the first listen. Entirely predictable chord progression.

Tim: Yep – like with the first couple of tracks this week, totally formula, totally well done.

Tom: All it’s missing is a key change.

Ina Wroldsen x Alok – Favela

“I’ve been struggling to work out exactly what it is about this song I like.”

Tim: A Swedish singer and writer and a Brazilian producer coming together to make a song where Ina can “shout about the incredible women of Brazil”, and it’s time to get TROPICAL. For context, ‘favela’ roughly translates as ‘slum’.

Tom: I am not convinced this is tropical, Tim.

Tim: Well, okay, let’s go with just summery. Thing is, ever since I first heard this a few days ago, I’ve been struggling to work out exactly what it is about this song I like beyond the fact that it’s just a good pop song. And then it struck me: it’s just that is really is a great pop song, in the most literal definition of it.

Tom: Wait, really? I’ll grant you the middle eight and chorus are decent, but…

Tim: Fair, your taste may vary with the sound, but structurally it’s pure textbook. A first verse with room to grow, check. A strong chorus to give us an idea of where everything’s going, tick. Post-chorus with a lovely melody, yep. Second verse with extra percussion underneath, present. Middle eight that gives us enough (but not too much) variety, there. Final chorus with a whole bit of extra everything, and I’ve run out of synonyms, but that doesn’t matter because all that’s left is a closing vocal all on its own to make it nice and meaningful. The song doesn’t put a single foot out of line anywhere, and in my view it’s excellent for it.

Tom: It’s just a pity that — lyrically, if not quite stylistically — it’s basically Clean Bandit’s Rockabye.

Tim: Oh. Oh yes, there is that.

Saturday Flashback: G.R.L. – Ugly Heart

“Good Pop Choruses! And a good middle eight! And good verses!”

Tim: It’s not European (well, one of them’s British), and it’s definitely not Europop, but I heard it for the first time in ages a week or so ago and I’ve listened multiple times a day ever since, so here you go.

Tim: At least I’m fairly sure it was this I heard, and not the Little Mix cover version, but either way it’s a brilliant track.

Tom: Good Pop Choruses! This is what we’ve been talking about this week! And a good middle eight! And good verses! My two rules hold true: I can sing the chorus by the end of the first listen, and I want to hear it again right afterwards. This right here? This is a good pop chorus.

Tim: Technically the band is still going, sort of – the disbanded in June 2015, reformed in August 2016 and have since put out a whole two tracks. They’re touring next year, though, so that’ll be interesting to see what they can cobble together. Anyway, until then we have this. What a song.