Frida Sundemo – Islands

“It starts on a chorus, which is a risky move at the best of times.”

Tim: The second best album of last year, Flashbacks & Futures, got released the day before my sister’s wedding, and if I’m honest it wasn’t entirely sure which I was more excited about. I won’t say which has given me more lasting enjoyment, but I will say that nine months on, one of the better tracks from it has suddenly been given a lyric video.

Tim: Now, I’ll get the obvious criticism out of the way first, to acknowledge it: there’s not much of a journey here.

Tom: I was going with “discount Chvrches”, but sure, that’s also valid criticism.

Tim: It starts on a chorus, which is a risky move at the best of times, dips to a first verse with a quiet first half and loud second half. Then the chorus, second verse, next chorus and middle eight stay at roughly the same volume. Yes, that is a slight flaw.

Tom: I disagree that starting on a chorus is overly risky: “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” has been good advice for pop musicians for a long, long time. And hey, at least I can remember the chorus after one listen this time.

Tim: HOWEVER, I am more than willing to forgive it that because OH, the last section of that song. Volume and energy wise it might not change much, but melodically and sonically it’s just so lovely. The decent, but by this point slightly repetitive, drumbeat makes way for that fabulous synth line, and it’s just great to listen to. By the end, it’s so so worth it.

Tom: And as ever with Frida’s tracks, I’m just not as enthusiastic: again, there’s nothing wrong (and, yes, it’s a good chorus), but there’s nothing that gets me excited here.

Tim: They could have turned up the colour in that video, though.

CHVRCHES – Never Say Die

“THIS IS HOW TO DO IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.”

Tim: If you were hoping for a break from the female-fronted electro pop theme that this week has seemingly developed, I’ve got bad news for you, because here’s the Queen of Scots herself to defend her throne.

Tim: Oh, and boy oh boy can she defend her throne.

Tom: THIS IS HOW TO DO IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Tim: Blimey, that’s a reaction.

Tom: Now the question is, am I saying that because I like CHVRCHES’s sound already, or because this is a good track on its own merits? I’d like to think it’s the second, because that synth that leads into the chorus comes out of nowhere, and it doesn’t sound like them, and yet I still went “oh, that’s good”.

Tim: I have very similar views to that: true, it doesn’t sound like their typical track, as it’s a lot bassier than previously, but damn is this good. Normally I hate a fade out ending, as should most sensible people, but I can forgive it slightly when it’s an instrumental fade out and the instrumental is this good. Also, like you, I fully accept that if this weren’t by CHVRCHES but instead by some other band, I might not have this much enthusiasm for it, or be as willing to forgive that, and that by extension I may technically be falling into the trap that the Norwegians fell into when they chose Alexander Rybak to represent them at Eurovision with an atrocious song.

Tom: I still think that’s going to win.

Tim: Ugh, please no. What I might think of the song if it weren’t by CHVRCHES is slightly irrelevant, mind, because this is by CHVRCHES, and I bloody love it, and NOTHING you say will stop me. So there.

Post Precious – Lose Myself

“I’m starting to think it’s time they turned it into a front project.”

Tim: Third track of this pairing, and I’ve realised I’ve never really actually explained it: basically the producer off the American electro duo MS MR, Max Hershenow, has teamed up with a singer called Alex Winston to form this as a ‘side project’; going by this, and their previous two, I’m starting to think it’s time they turned it into a front project.

Tom: We’ve certainly been talking a lot about female-fronted electropop lately.

Tim: Because it’s quite good, isn’t it? It is, like yesterday, an example of this genre done very well indeed – great vocals, excellent production.

Tom: Mm. I’m just not so sure about the composition: there’s really nothing that stands out there for me. We’ve heard a lot of tracks like this before, and they’re all starting to blur together for me. What stands out for you?

Tim: Notably brilliant: the fifth eighth of the chorus – the “who was I to think…” line, which has a melody that is absolutely lovely. That’s not to say the rest of the chorus is bad, because I don’t think any part of this is bad – in fact, it’s all rather lovely and wonderful. Sure, it’s slightly annoying that every time the “I lose” comes along I want to segue into “my eyes…“, but I can get past that (and even if I can’t that’s a good song to slide into).

Tom: I guess I’m looking for something a bit more. This isn’t a bad song by any means, it’s just unmemorable for me.

Tim: We’re three tracks in, with three successes, so I call that at least very promising, right?

Olivera – No More

“It’s a genre I love, and it’s nicely done.”

Tim: New one off Olivera, who is from Finland and has been going a couple of years now; have a listen, because I’ve a question.

Tom: I’ll be honest, I can’t remember much of it after listening, which isn’t a good sign.

Tim: So, that is a lovely track, for me – it’s a genre I love, and it’s nicely done. The only problem is: I’d swear I’ve heard it before, to the extent that I had to check we’d not previously featured it. Have I heard it? Or is it just that it’s such textbook example of the CHVRCHES/Foxes style that it sounds familiar because it uses all the, well, standard tropes?

Tom: It sounds like a CHVRCHES album track, but, like, not a specific one. I’ve never heard it before, certainly.

Tim: I don’t know, and that annoys me. Is it just standard good, or something really good that I’ve already heard many times?

George FitzGerald & Lil Silva – Roll Back

“The underlying line basically is the Stranger Things theme.”

Tim: George from London, Lil Silva from Bedford, and this is the second track to be released from his upcoming second album.

Tom: Wow, I thought Luton was the least cool town in Britain. I forgot about Bedford.

Tim: I heard it on the radio yesterday morning, and for some reason it struck me that it could be quite a good TV theme, say, a Netflix one where the opening title sequence is about as long as the rest of the show, and all dark and dreamy.

Tim: A few minutes later, I realised exactly the reason for me thinking that: the underlying line basically is the Stranger Things theme. It’s not quite note for note but similar enough that it wouldn’t remotely surprise me if he’d thought “hey, something like that’d make a good backing for a song”. That’s not a bad thing, I suppose – inspiration has to come from somewhere, after all – but that doesn’t stop it sounding just a bit weird when there’s nothing else happening.

Tom: Mind you, the Stranger Things theme is itself inspired by a huge number of works from the actual 1980s — so perhaps it’s safe to say that it’s repeating the same homage. You’re right, though, this is certainly an attempt at dark and cinematic: perhaps a bit too much. Slowly fading to a second of silence in a track is a brave move, and this more or less pulls it off.

Tim: Having said that, when there is other stuff, it’s quite beautiful. Dark, certainly, and rather haunting. The voice fits the tone of the music perfectly, and the video is…well, along the same lines really. It’s an absolutely lovely track, and despite the darkness I could happily listen to it a good number of times.

Tom: It’d also make a good advert for ASDA.

Post Precious – Timebomb

“Bold start there, and it plays out interestingly.”

Tim: As far as I can tell, this duo doesn’t actually have anything to do with the girlband who represented us at Eurovision.

Tom: Good heavens, that’s an obscure reference. Well done.

Tim: They’re instead two indie pop folk who’ve teamed up to bring us this joy. I don’t want to spoil it, but don’t have this too loud if you’re in a public place.

Tim: Bold start there, and it plays out interestingly.

Tom: I honestly can’t tell whether that’s “love, you’re fucked” or “love your foot” as the first line.

Tim: Rather than a standard build up to the chorus, it almost builds down throughout the verses before coming storming back in with a PROPER BANGER of a chorus, at least, sort of.

Tom: Oh, I’m glad you qualified that.

Tim: I’m about to criticise it, but I want to say first: overall, this is great. Love it. HOWEVER, I think it’s a lot better on first listen than it comes across later, or at least if you pay attention and study it after a couple of listens it somewhat loses it. First time, you’re blown away by that chorus, you don’t notice that it calms down quite considerably after that first note, and doesn’t *quite* ever make it back up there, which it doesn’t, upsetting.

Tom: Imagine if you weren’t blown away by that first chorus. I mean, I don’t have to, but you might want to.

Tim: Now, as I said, though, I still think it’s great, lovely, and listening to it in the background it’s fantastic, because it’s still big. Just, never quite hits that sweet spot that it did the first time.

Tom: Yep, despite my cynicism, this isn’t a bad track. It’s just a bit anemic for me; it never hit that sweet spot.

Donkeyboy – Kaleidoscope

“Discount Phil Collins going into the first chorus”

Tim: With advance warning that the video has one of those irritating bits where the song cuts out for no reason: here’s the first one off Donkeyboy in aaaaaages!

Tom: The Discount Phil Collins going into the first chorus works surprisingly well—

Tim: I’m sorry, WHAT? I…I don’t even know how to respond that.

Tom: —although I’m really not sure about the choice of synth patch that follows. The composition’s good, I’m just not sure about the production. And as for that video cutout…

Tim: It’s a bit unfortunate, really, because with the exact placement of it at the end of the final chorus, all it really does is draw attention to the fact that there’s thirty seconds of largely instrumental stuff that isn’t strictly necessary. Those thirty seconds are good, though, as indeed is pretty much all of the rest of the song – in fact, listening to the song rather than watching the video, I absolutely love this.

Tom: There are moments of absolute genius in here — the start of the pre-chorus — but I’m not convinced about all of it.

Tim: See, I am. It’s Donkeyboy doing what they do at their very very best, and that’s good.

Hanne Leland – You Don’t Own Me

“It’s a shame the verses have to suffer”

Tim: Our reader, Bjørnar, reckons this is “a powehouse synth pop ballad giving me chills. Strong message and catchy chorus.”

Tim: And I’m not really tempted to disagree with him.

Tom: That reminds me a lot of LIGHTS in style, and I mean that as a big compliment. It’s such a similar style, actually, that even after writing this I’m still half-convinced it’s some unreleased material from her. I don’t think I can give this an objective judgment, because it sounds so familiar.

Tim: It may sound familiar, but that could just be because it’s a good style. Now, in most songs the chorus is the stand-out part, but here it really is – I got a bit distracted and when the chorus came along I thought “oh, yes, I forgot that was playing”. That’s not to say the verses are bad, because they’re not at all: they’re very good at doing what they do, conveying a quiet and gentle message that’s just waiting to be amplified.

Tom: There’s still a lot of good work going on with the synths underneath, though — and the vocals are great, too.

Tim: They are. It’s just a bit of a shame, though, that with that structure in mind they have to suffer for the chorus to come in with the effect that it does. I’d suggest turning everything up by 25% or so, but then the chorus might sound too loud, and it’s that contrast that makes the song what it is. I don’t know – either way, I’ll take it.

Moment – Indigo

“The intro on this… completely restored my faith in music.”

Tim: I don’t know if I’m in a bit of a funk at the moment, Tom, because I’ve listened to a good half dozen new tracks today and not a single one has done anything for me. The intro on this, however, completely restored my faith in music, so have a listen.

Tom: Restored your faith in music? That’s quite a…

Tom: …yep, okay, that’s fair.

Tim: A classic? No. But something that’ll get me sitting up and somewhat enthusiastic after a long day? Yeah, it’ll fit the bill for that nicely. It reminds me of a track that Bright Light Bright Light might come out with (or possibly did come out with, as some of it is a tad recognisable), and that’s certainly never a bad thing.

Tom: I was thinking more Miike Snow: those synths, and that wall-of-sound-esque style. Both are good comparisons to make.

Tim: I was slightly worried by those verses, that it might suddenly have lost its energy never to return, but of course it hadn’t. That chorus brought that sound back just as big and strong as before, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Good work.

Hanna Turi – Richochet

Tim: Hanna’s off Sweden, and we’ve not featured her before; it’s good that I came across this via SoundCloud and not YouTube.

Tim: Because, damn that takes a long time to get going (if in fact it ever does, which is debatable), and it was only the promise from waveform that kept me from switching off in boredom after ten seconds.

Tom: And given all the loudness-war hyper-compression that’s going on lately, that’s an unusual waveform to see.

Tim: I’m glad I stuck with it, because it’s nice – really nice – when the choruses come along, in a Röyksopp-y kind of way, but I really do wish there was more happening outside them.

Tom: Given the overall sound of the track, I’m happy with that; it’s not trying to be something that it’s not. Instead it’s calm, it’s chilled-out, and it’s got some lovely melodies in there. I’ll take this.