First Aid Kit – Fireworks

“Still going strong.”

Tim: We’ve not featured First Aid Kit for a few years now, but the country pop duo are still going strong.

Tom: Somehow, that’s a surprise to me. I don’t know why; it’s probably the name, which sounds like someone said “hey, that’s a good name for a band” at completely the wrong time and it stuck.

Tim: Here’s the first one up from their new album.

Tim: Not sure why, but ever since I brought it up when we were discussing Perfect, I’ve found myself noticing a lot more songs in 12/8 or 6/8 time, and for some reason that’s joined the key change as a thing the immediately makes a song better. Not automatically good, but maybe bumping it from a 7 to an 8, say. This, well it’s already quite nice, with its gentle swaying manner and its textbook First Aid Kit smile, and that just puts it a little bit higher, to give me a nice relaxed smile. I like it. It’s pleasant.

Tom: You’re not wrong there: although the strongest part for me was the intro and first verse, which was such a strong start that I assumed the chorus was going to be spectacular. Instead, it was good. That’s still high praise coming from me, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t know what else they could have done with it; but I just wasn’t sure that the chorus had actually started.

Tim: Now, if only someone could make a great song that’s also in 3 time and has a fantastic key ch-OH WAIT A MINUTE.

Saturday Flashback: LOCASH – Ring On Every Finger

Tom: I’ve been driving through the midwest of America lately, and country music — or, rather, the mainstream country-pop that’s played by commercial radio stations — has been my soundtrack. It seemed right.

Tim: Makes sense, particularly as I now have a lovely image of you with aviator sunglasses and a sheriff’s stetson on your head.

Tom: No comment. But there’s something I’ve noticed, Tim, and I think it’s most obvious with this song. They’re singing “love bombs” not “F-bombs” in the chorus in the radio edit, by the way, that surprised me in this version.

Tom: This could be schlager.

Tim: Huh – yeah, you’re not wrong there. It’s certainly a heck of a lot more upbeat and interesting than that Sam Hunt track you brought to the table last week.

Tom: It’s three and a half minutes long. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, hammer the chorus home twice more, outro. All it’s missing is a key change — and, as far as I can tell, in country that’s replaced by a Southern accent, a guitar twang, and a wholesome message.

It was meant to be latin-pop. Then it turned into country. It doesn’t matter about the style: it could be any pop genre. The only thing that means this is being played on “KSKS Country” and not “100% NL” is that they’re using guitars and not synthesisers.

Tim: See, the thing that sticks out most in that paragraph is the bit about latin-pop – after all, we’ve seen any number of rock and guitar pop track redone as dance tracks. Hell, you could barely turn on a radio in the mid ’00s without hearing Cascada or DJ Sammy within half an hour. Never really imagined it with other genres. Though now I do, I guess we’ve also had Nica & Joe, and also Gregorian if that counts, and, yeah, many more.

Tom: I’m not saying all country-pop’s good, or that it’s even our genre. But sometimes, the Golden Rules of Pop shine through, and this is one of those times.

Tim: Yep. Good pop will always be that.

Saturday Flashback: Sam Hunt – Body Like A Backroad

“You what?”

Tom: I know we don’t normally cover country here, even the pop-music version of it. But stick with this, because I’ve got a couple of reasons for it — the first of which is, this exemplifies the country standard of “entire song as extended simile”.

Tom: So here’s the surprising thing: this is one of the most popular country songs in US history.

Tim: You what?

Tom: 34 weeks at the top of the country chart. (It’s worth noting that US Billboard charts include airplay; it is still getting huge amounts of play on both pop and country stations, despite being released in February.) Triple platinum in both the US and Canada. Platinum in Australia. And… nothing in Britain.

Tim: Well…yeah. Admittedly I’m not best placed to judge the merits of country songs, but even I can tell this is really quite dull. That line “15 in a 30” pretty much sums it up.

Tom: Oh, and no music video either. Sure, it’s on YouTube as audio, and as a lyric video, but if any music TV channels want to play it, they’ve got nothing.

Country music is strange.

Tim: Utterly baffling.

Mimi Werner & Brolle – Here We Go Again

“It’s the disappointing kind of duet.”

Tim: Mimi is following up her storming hoedown debut at Melodifestivalen with this, a duet with 2001’s Popstars veteran Brolle.

Tom: Well, that’s not exactly storming, is it?

Tim: And, it’s the disappointing kind of duet where neither is paying any attention whatsoever to what the other is singing, despite them being standing less than a foot away from each other in the video – a shame, really, because tracks like Up and Second Hand Heart show that conversations and narratives can happen, and the song is invariably better for that. Here, we have basically an individual’s song split in two.

Tom: And not a particularly good song at that? At times — particularly that middle eight — it almost sounds like a nursery rhyme that’s been given a bit of production value. It’s very slow, very simple, and just… not enough to get me excited.

Tim: Musically, though, it’s decent enough – I probably shouldn’t have linked to those two duets earlier, actually, because they’re both quite a bit better, but never mind, because the chorus is a fair belter and one I’m happy to listen to frequently. So much so, in fact, that I will actually hope that their relationship can get beyond the fact that they have no idea what each other is saying. GOOD LUCK GUYS.

JA – Caroline

“Upbeat country pop.”

Tim: Here’s a fun track, and topical as well because The X Factor’s back this weekend (tragic, isn’t it?) and allegedly this Swedish duo were invited to perform following various YouTube covers and the like.

Tim: ​Hmm. Well, let’s hope that only happens to one act a year, and in the meantime have a preview, so we can all say we liked them first.

Tim: And it’s upbeat country pop, and it’s very good at doing it, or at least that’s my view.

Tom: Yep. I found my foot tapping along.

Tim: It’s fun, it’s got the typically good for a boost oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-etc following the chorus, and it’s sung about one girl in particular, which provides an opportunity for plenty of “oh, just imagine if I was Caroline” feels.

Tom: You actually just used the word ‘feels’, didn’t you? Did you even notice? ‘Cos I can imagine you slating yourself for that a couple of years ago.

Tim: And BOOM, he takes the bait, which is good as I’d have seemed an utter bellend otherwise.

Tom: Fairly sure that “live like young hearts do” basically means “have sex”, though.

Tim: ​Mate, they’re two blokes in their mid-teens. Everything basically means “have sex”. So as a debut original track, I think this is a pretty good shot.

Florida Georgia Line – This Is How We Roll

“Oh good grief”

Tom: What the hell? This isn’t your usual fare.

Tim: Well spotted. Remember how yesterday I said I was in the market for something big and bold? Turns out, American country rock is pretty much just what I was after.

Tom: Oh good grief, that’s every modern pop-country stereotype rolled into one. It doesn’t help that one of them looks like Trevor Moore.

Tim: Motorbikes, stunts, explosions, gratuitous shots of women leaning seductively against HGVs, I think the video gets it just right – very much a WE ARE MANLY message.

Tom: But the song! It’s awful! It’s all about how they’re young and successful; he’s sort-of rapping in a Southern accent; the hook is as simple as something can get. This is basically stereotypical 90s rap, filtered at high pressure through Nashville. Yes, it’s all HERE WE ARE and WE ARE MEN, but bloody hell, this ain’t a good song.

Tim: Well, possibly. Again back to the manly message, why it’s an important message for this band to get across is not a matter I’m qualified to speculate on, so all I’ll finish up by saying is that this is a nice loud track that I can and do enjoy right now. OK?

Tom: The worst part is, I’m probably going to be singing it for ages.

Steve Grand – Stay

“It’s nice to see songs that will annoy the less progressive parts of American society.”

Tim: Steve Grand made a slight wave in America back in July when he brought out his first track, All-American Boy, with its video portraying the tale of a gay guy with a crush on his straight best mate, and was hailed as the country’s first openly gay country music star.

Tom: It’s worth looking on Wikipedia for some of the dissenting opinions there, but yes: it’s nice to see songs that are, let’s be honest, going to annoy the less progressive parts of American society.

Tim: This, his second single, doesn’t bother with any unrequitedness.

Tim: On one hand, I am not a country music fan. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your dungarees, checked shirts and hay bales far away from me, and you can stick your banjo right where the sun don’t shine.

Tom: I’ll let that line just sit there, shall I?

Tim: If you like. On the other hand, I love a good summery party track, which this definitely is, and that is the side I’m falling down on for this track. It’s great, and even at five minutes it’s not outstaying its welcome even slightly. It’s brilliant.

Tom: It did go on a bit for me: I reckon it’s an excellent three-minute track stretched a bit too far. And while it won’t be making it onto my regular playlist, I’m glad it exists.

Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc – Wake Me Up

“Country music?”

Tim: Last time we reviewed an Avicii track you said his style was starting to sound a bit stale. I don’t think you’ll say that this time.

Tom: “Save tonight, and fight the break of dawn” … just me?

Tim: Couldn’t find a ridiculous cover version for that one, I presume?

Tom: No, but I did find a useless cover version.

Tim: Blimey, Danny Saucedo’s come a long way since then. But I think we’ve got a bit distracted. What was I going to say? Ah, yes. You’ll need a fairly substantial remix before this’ll get played out in any big clubs, I’d imagine, because for the most part this is, well, country music?

Tom: The presence of an acoustic guitar doesn’t make it country music.

Tim: True, but merge that with the vocal stylings and you’re not far off.

Tom: And admittedly I did expect a much bigger bass drop after that build* — this isn’t a club floorfiller, but it is something I very much want to add to my playlist. This is music for radio play, for listening to, for putting on the inevitable ‘chilled dance’ compilation at the end of the year — and there’ll be a big banging remix for the clubs.

* Have you ever seen how those are made? 5m36 into this video explains it all.

Tim: The chorus is fine, and the vocal could work well on top of a dance beat, but let be honest you’d have a difficult time dancing feet off the ground, hands in the air to that guitar business.

Tom: Speak for yourself: this gets filed under ‘euphoric’ for me, and it’ll work very nicely indeed with a remix.

Tim: Oh, a remix, absolutely. Guitar on its own, as it is – not so much.

Tom: I very, very much like this.

Tim: Oh, it’s certainly not a bad track – it just doesn’t really blend at all so I’m not sure what to make of it. Could be a huge hit, but then it could also flop disastrously. Hope it’s not the latter.

First Aid Kit – Emmylou

“More country and western than I expected.”

Tim: First Aid Kit. That is what this group, about to release their second album, The Lion’s Roar, actually chose to call themselves.

Tom: They’ll go well with The Vaccines, then.

Tom: Well, that’s a lot more country and western than I expected. That name does make them rather ungooglable, though – so when I managed to track them down online, I was surprised to find out they’re Swedish; those American accents, and all the style and pageantry that goes with them, are utterly convincing.

Tim: In their words, it’s “about the power of singing together with someone you love” which is just lovely, isn’t it. Well, unless you don’t have anyone to love and that thought, combined with the opening lyrics about bitter winds and missing the summer and the vaguely funereal scene towards the end of the video, might leave you feeling a little bit down. BUT ANYWAY, let’s pretend that thought never occurred to me and we’ll move on.

Tom: It’s surprising how often we have to do that.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah, it really is, isn’t it? Hmm. Actually, this isn’t really the place to psychoanalyse me, so if you don’t mind we’ll go back to the music.

It’s a gentle tune with shout-outs to various country musicians, and while there is a slight melancholiness about the tune and voice, the lyrics are quite sweet – they’ve had a bit of an argument, she’s lied to him about something or other, but she just wants only the beginnings of forgiveness: “I’m not asking much of you, just sing little darling, sing with me.”

Tom: It’s all rather lovely. It’s not exactly the straight-out pop we normally feature here – but I really like it.