Jessica Bohlin – Från Norr Till Söder

“Fancy some nice country pop?”

Tim: Fancy some nice country pop?

Tom: Well, that’s pleasant enough, isn’t it?

Tim: Title translates to ‘From North To South’, lyrics are nowhere to be found online so sadly I can’t tell you about them. The music, though, I think is absolutely lovely – First Aid Kit is the group that leaps to mind as a comparison (and apparently one out of them had a baby last month, how lovely). It’s speedy, it’s got a lovely melody throughout, the vocal’s excellent, and the backing oohh-ooh-ooohs after the second chorus and at the end are delightful.

Tom: “Nice” isn’t a goal that pop often aims for, and certainly not one that gets rewarded all that often. They’ve managed it here, though.

Tim: All in, rather nice track.

Anna Bergendahl – Speak Love

“Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks.”

Tim: Bits of yesterday’s track reminded me of Avicii; here’s a country opening for you that’s right out of his playbook.

Tim: Not quite as hefty later on, of course, but as country tracks go it’s still a RIGHT ON BANGER, and one I’ve happily played several times now and not got even slightly bored of.

Tom: Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks. Which is why I’m surprised that you always seem to write it off as a genre. This isn’t full-on American country, of course, but it’s certainly on those lines. And you like it!

Tim: The melody, the vocal, the energy, the everything, it’s there! Right there!

Tom: It’s a bit by-the-numbers, sure, but they are good numbers.

Tim: All flipping marvellous, so BRING IT, Anna, YES, with your walks down memory lane in the pouring rain. They might not be the greatest things, but at least they inspire good songs. Like this.

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.

Martin Almgren – A Bitter Lullaby

“A fake southern US accent. No idea.”

Tim: The staple of any Eurovision: the song that states how the world isn’t all but can soon be so much better. Here, we dial up the country tones, and with it bring along a fake southern US accent. No idea.

Tim: The final was the first time I heard this song, as I missed the heat, and I really liked it – yes, it’s cheesy, and sure, this type of song can be annoying, but it’s packaged nicely with a good chorus melody, pleasant backing vocal, and he certainly brings the energy.

Tom: That’s true, although I’ve heard that chorus melody before.

Tim: Huh – I was all set to wonder how I missed that, what with it being literally my third, or maybe second, or fourth, but definitely top five, favourite Christmas song ever – but then I guess there’s such a massive genre shift it passed me by.

Tom: Probably accidental, though. You’re right, though: there’s a certain, preacher-like energy to him: it sounds like something you’d hear on a Christian rock radio station in the US.

Tim: In theory, I guess one listen’s exactly what you’d need for a Eurovision song. Now that I’ve heard it a few more, though, the cracks become apparent – we don’t need all that shouting, and that voice really is a bit weird. But first time, it did me alright, and to be honest I could see this, depending on the mood of the room, not doing too badly in Lisbon. Not winning, hell no, but not bad.

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.