“Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?”
Tom: Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?
Tim: Umm…not really?
Tom: Well, tough, you’re getting one.
Tom: There are two reasons I send this to you: first, just as a weird cultural artifact. Baker Street’s been covered a lot of times, but this one managed to reach the top 10 all over Europe despite being… well, let’s be honest, a bit anemic.
Tim: Yeah – even describing it as ‘piano-dance’ is, well, technically correct, but it’s not exactly GET ON THE DANCEFLOOR stuff, is it?
Tom: It’s a reasonable middle-of-the-road piano-dance track, but it’s not exactly a barnstormer. This is what Undercover did: all their singles were perfectly acceptable cover versions.
Tim: Hmm, fair enough, I guess.
Tom: But the second reason I’m sending this is: I never realised that Baker Street, despite being written in the seventies, follows modern pop conventions. You’ve got a verse, a vocal pre-chorus, and then an instrumental hook as the actual chorus. Non-standard for the time, sure, but now… well, who knows, perhaps Alan Walker will sample Baker Street soon. We’re about due.
“So, I know I said last week that I wasn’t in the mood for a banger right now.”
Tim: Swedish dance producer whose tracks I really enjoy every time we feature them, but who I completely forget to add to my ‘watch for new music by this artist’ app; that’s now been rectified, so let’s hear the song.
Tim: So, I know I said last week that I wasn’t in the mood for a banger right now.
Tom: Well, I mean, everyone’s being affected by lockdown in different ways.
Tim: But as it turns out, when it sounds this great I absolutely am. The lyrics don’t really mean anything – caught in the middle of what, exactly, and is ‘just a little’ better or worse than it was when you were caught there? – and I’m really not convinced by the ‘oah’ spelling in the lyric video.
Tom: You can’t open with all that! You’ve covered basically everything I was going to say! (Although “oah” feels right to me; short of putting a hyphen in the middle I can’t think of a better way to transcribe it.)
Tim: But those things don’t matter, because the dance breakdown bits are really really good.
Tom: It’s a good album track, I reckon; not going to be a sudden summer smash floorfiller, but it’ll do well enough.
Tim: That speedy xylophone run sounds brilliant (tropical house, ridiculous as ever), the rest of the chorus melody fits in nicely around it, and all in all this is a top notch track.
I guess I imagined there was something more to it than “play about until it works” — even though that is, basically, how any composer or creative person works, really.
Tim: So, let’s have a chat about the video, shall we? Because, well, you know me, Tom, I’m always the most likely of the two of us to give artists the benefit of the doubt when stuff looks dodgy, and you’re typically the cynical one. And yet, even I’m slightly wondering about the fact that the video focuses on them not being able to film it in the Maldives (actually, hang on, found a little violin between my sofa cushions, let me play it quickly), and so having to make do at home instead.
Tom: Right. We’re going to be seeing a lot of those.
Tim: BUT ALSO in the video description, we have “Directed and filmed by Johannes Lovund”. Now, he’s done a lovely job there, can’t fault any of the footage – but one guy filming in two locations, with two musicians, doesn’t exactly scream lonely isolation, does it?
Tim: I’d never seen the video for Shanks & Bigfoot’s Sweet Like Chocolate until now, and it really is quite something. Anyway, that’s not why we’re here, we’re here for Steve Aoki’s new one, where he’s teamed up with the frequently reliable Icona Pop.
Tom: Well, that’s an interesting teamup: they’re both known for being Loud and Interesting.
Tim: And, yep, that’s very much a Steve Aoki feat. Icona Pop track. Slightly yelly vocals, hefty beat, no real melody in the verse but a decent (if not entirely original) melody in the chorus and breakdown. To be honest, it’s pretty much expected to hear when I pressed play, and that is no bad thing at all, for anyone who likes that sort of thing.
Tom: I’ve said this before, but: if you’re going to base your entire chorus on one repetitive melody line, then you’d better make sure it’s brilliant, and couldn’t possibly grate on the audience. I don’t think they’ve pulled it off here. Or at least, they haven’t for me.
Tim: Incidentally, both this and his last one with Backstreet Boys have an enormous number of writers – credited here we’ve got him, both of Icona Pop, Sigala, her off SHY Martin, and four other less recognisable names – and yet no-one thought to say “hang on, I recognise that melody”.
Tom: I do hear Shanks & Bigfoot in there now you point it out, but I’m also not convinced that it’s an original enough melody to even justify copyright: it’s more like something a small child would pick out on a piano.
Which, now I think of it, is just a different indictment of the songwriting. Ah well.
“I think, frankly, this may have Raised Expectations Too High.”
Tom: The PR bumf for this one says that it “delivers a rich dose of inspiration just when listeners need it most”, which frankly sounds more like a marketing slogan for an energy drink, but sure.
Tim: We’ve seen worse.
Tom: “Don’t be surprised when you get goosebumps at the crescendo!”, continues the blurb. I think, frankly, this may have Raised Expectations Too High.
Tom: Because if they’d come in with “yep, it’s a by-the-numbers trying-to-be-anthemic dance track”, I’d have been all “you know what, this is actually a cut above”. Because that chorus is excellent: yes, it’s the same style we’ve heard for years, but I think it proves there’s still life in that genre.
Tim: Yes – I really really enjoyed that. I do question the marketing of it as relevant to lockdown when the main chorus line starts “come with me, let us live a little louder”, but marketing aside this is a great track. I particularly like that from a DJ I’ve never heard of before (even though he’s been going since 2009).
Tom: But goosebumps? Come on, mate. Tone it down a notch or two.
Tim: Not sure there’s any chance of that – his website describes him as “clubbing’s G-force of nature” and as “a household name in dance music” despite him not even having a Wikipedia page in his native Germany. Still, what’s wrong with a bit of self-confidence?
“I think I’m mostly impressed by the fact that Dario G has kept the same logo for almost a quarter of a century.”
Tim: It’s warm and sunny outside, but no-one can go out and party to enjoy it. It is, really, the perfect situation for relaxing summery tracks that Dario G is known for.
Tim: Ah. Hmm.
Tom: I think I’m mostly impressed by the fact that Dario G has kept the same logo for almost a quarter of a century.
Tim: Do you know, I entirely love it when acts do that. I can’t think of many off the top of my head – The Sound of Arrows have, and Busted have as well, though they dropped it for their first comeback album when they went all funky and less than ideal, which I think says it all.
And as for the music here, well, it’s good, don’t get me wrong – it’s just that right now, if I see Dario G come up, I’d like a song I can press play on and then relax to, in a garden, or on a balcony, or at just the right place where the sun shines through the window. What I really don’t want much of is a tropical beat-heavy banger that reminds me I could be having a massive night out. There’s still trademark parts in there, mind, and this is something that could absolutely be resolved with a remix: just take some of the drums off and I’m fairly sure I’d love it.
Tom: I’m not particularly against the style of this, it’s a good modern update to the old piano-dance.
Tim: Very very true, and I don’t want to come across too negative. This reaction is based entirely on my expectations, assumptions and personal wishes. If I’m out for a night in a club and this comes on, I’ll be putting down my piña colada and getting right on that dance floor. But I see Dario G, with the situation as it is…ahh, it’s just the timing.
Tom: Lyric videos have on-screen director credits now. That’s not relevant to the music, I just thought I’d get that observation out the way before we get on with the music.
Tom: Remember when Kygo had just one tropical-sounding synth pad and it was either “this is another boring Kygo track” or “this doesn’t sound like Kygo, so it sucks”? Well, I think he’s finally managed to get beyond that.
Tim: Yeah – though this is still definitely a Kygo track, with pineapples and coconuts aplenty, whatever the video might imply. There’s just quite a lot else in there was well.
Tom: Granted, it’s only a slightly-different synth pad, but it’s still a step in the right direction. It still sounds like Kygo! (In fact, it sounds a lot like It Ain’t Me, despite not having any chopped-up vocals.)
Tim: It helps that he’s coming straight off his biggest track since It Ain’t Me (last July, Higher Love cam out, and still getting played regularly), so he can afford to go back to being himself.
Tom: But it shows there does seem to be an escape hatch for him, and that, I reckon, is a good thing.
Tim: So, Alan’s got a new one out, and OH BOY. Part of me is tempted to go for (and would be justified going for) a lengthy history of Alan’s logo worshipping cult thing he has going on, but I won’t, partly because we’re (in theory) just here for the track, and also because I could easily get a 2,000 word piece out of it and this really isn’t the place. Quick recap, then: his first trilogy of videos had various post-apocalypse groups of people worshipping his logo; we got into the details here and here, and he actually posted an explanatory video (which is actually quite interesting with some behind the scenes stuff as well).
Tom: How much must all this cost? Is it worth it? I’d love to know whether his fans are viewing these as just “music videos” or whether a lot of folks are treating it like new releases in the MCU.
Tim: Yeah, it’d be interesting. I checked the comments to get an idea, but they’re all linking a song called Heading Home with the coronavirus lockdowns, and I can’t BELIEVE I missed that opportunity.
This new trilogy he’s got have started with On My Way and continued with Alone, Pt II. If you’ve got time (and let’s face it, who doesn’t right now), you might want to spend 7 minutes or so catching up, but basically: a student’s found historical clues based around, yep, his logo, and they’ve all led up to archeological discoveries, and now she’s going just a little bit further…
Tom: …and ending the world, apparently.
Tim: I dunno, let’s not be too quick to point fingers. First note, though: D.H. Lawrence did actually compile a book called The Symbolic Meaning, so props to them there for not just making something up; on the other hand, it’s not actually about the meanings of symbols, so she’d have been better off consulting The Da Vinci Code, but LET’S MOVE ON. We’re closing the story with another cult worshipping that logo, almost mirroring the beginning of his first trilogy, preparing for an apocalyptic event by burying a Walker-embedded time capsule. To be honest, it’s almost a disappointment – not because I was expecting anything sane, but because the first two were at least grounded in the real world (obviously still bonkers, but realistically so) and then this one takes it vaguely supernatural, kind of breaking the story. Ah, well.
Tom: See, I’ve always come at this from the approach of “well, it’s just a music video, and it’s not like it’s related to the track”. This could happily sit in a background tab for me.
Tim: Oh, absolutely, and the vast majority of the time when people hear this it’ll be via a speaker, not through the video.
Tom: I wonder if there are songs where that’s not the case. Gangnam Style? Any of OK Go’s videos? I don’t know if it’s possible to track that, but it’d be interesting.
Tim: Maybe Never Gonna Give You Up, although admittedly no-one actually chooses to watches that. Thing is, though, and despite what I said earlier, I’m not sure there’s much point in us discussing the music, as there’s not much to say beyond: it is an inoffensive and entirely decent Alan Walker track. Despite what it says in the description about him having worked on this since Faded and it being a very special song, I’m almost certain he’s more interested in the videos than he is in the tracks.
Tom: Right! And there’s nothing wrong with that, OK Go have based a career on it, but at that point I’m wondering: do you even count yourself as a musical artist? Or are you a filmmaker who scores the stuff you’re producing?
Tim: Exactly, and he’s certainly getting into full filmmaker levels, as it’s not just the over the top storylines: that behind the scenes video I linked to earlier shows a hell of effort (and money) goes into the videos, with filming in five different countries and physical versions of those drones and ‘prophecy discs’ being made. That’s not entirely a criticism, mind – I was saying only yesterday how I wished songs could come with narratives, and these certainly fit the bill – though it does make me wonder if five years from now he’ll have been hired by Marvel to write a new Fantastic Four movie.
Tom: Can’t be worse than any of the previous ones.
Tim: You know, I was about to leap in with a vague defence of the 2005 one, but then I remembered the 2015 abomination, and oh god yes.
Anyway, final thought (I promise): I was at an Alan Walker gig not too long ago and naturally he had those face masks available at the merch stand; I didn’t buy one, because they were fifteen quid, but it’s just struck me they might have been quite useful right about now.
Tom: This takes a long time to get going, and I suspect it goes in a direction you won’t expect.
Tim: Cor, blimey – I’ve been feeling miserable recently, because obviously, but that has cheered me RIGHT UP. Yep, I did not expect that.
Tom: Full-on trance, to the point where his new album is called “THE LASERS”.
Tim: And without even hearing a single one of his other tracks, I’m already looking forward to it. Surprised you like it, though, what the chilled house style first half that’s more my sort of thing.
Tom: I don’t think I am particularly a big fan of the track — I think it’s a bit slow at points, and I’m not sure about that melody. Honestly, I don’t care. I just enjoyed the fact that someone is still putting out music like this, that it’s still getting attention, and that the title is “You’ll Be OK”.
Tim: Today, in ‘things that in hindsight are obvious but Tim never thought to realise’: producers who started out making tracks in their bedrooms at about the same time have a proper community rather than just having agents that contact each other for the occasional collaboration.
Tom: Huh. That’s pretty much how YouTube works, but I never thought to apply that to the music industry. All right. What’ve they put together?
Tim: This here’s a reworking of the track Nova that Ahrix made in 2013, slowed down a bit, given some vocals and brought a bit up to date, and the description below the video description is really quite lovely. Starts with a bit about how the three of them started, came together (apparently Nova was the track that brought them together), and ends up saying that with this, “we want to pay respect to all the music and producers that came before us, while also giving an opportunity for the next wave of bedroom producers out there who have yet to get a chance.”
Tom: Well, that’s lovely, isn’t it?
Tim: Isn’t it just? As for the song: entirely as we’d expect it to be, really, and in my view that isn’t remotely a criticism. The melody’s nice, lyrics pretty much get that message across.
Tom: And Alan Walker is using his signature “Hasn’t He Got Bored Of That Yet? Well We Wouldn’t Recognise Him Without It” synth for the chorus. I assume he’s had some other input too, though.
Tim: Well, there’s the video, which is as peculiar as is now to be expected from this crowd – though that is responsible for my one criticism: although there’s a deeper story there, there’s also a whole ‘we’re the three lone survivors at the end of world’ imagery, which might have been a little better timed given the whole ‘deadly virus sweeping the world’ thing that’s currently going on.
Tom: I didn’t make that connection, so hopefully they can get away with it.