NorthKid – Firefly

“All the necessary bits are there.”

Tim: New boyband off the north of Norway, nice and deep inside the Arctic circle; presumably that’s where the name comes from. Here’s their opening number.

Tim: Pretty good, right?

Tom: I was going to say “meh” until that quiet pre-chorus; that actually made me sit up and listen.

Tim: They are Helge, Bilal, Håkon, Sebastian and Vegard, and pleasingly they all seem fairly competent, always a bonus. One of them’s already been described as ‘the Zayn of the group’, which feels a bit like tempting fate to me but there you go, it’s done now.

Tom: See, that just means “first to leave” to me, but never mind.

Tim: Well, indeed. Whatever happens in the future, though, we can only judge them right now on the material they put out, and so far it’s looking promising – melody, instrumentation, production, vocals, all the necessary bits are there.

Tom: And yet, that’s not unqualified praise from either of us. When the best part is the quiet pre-chorus, I can’t give it anything more than what you said earlier: COMPETENT.

Tim: I’m not sure I’d personally choose to put this forth as a lead track to hold an album up, so hopefully there’s something a little better or more special to come later, but I’ll take it for now.

Cajsa Siik – White Noise (Forêt de Vin’s 1988 Edit)

“That was the sound of 80s-fatigue setting in for me, I think.”

Tim: Just been sent this, a remix of a track from May that we never got round to featuring. As you may be able to guess from the title, it’s kind of a ‘let’s put it back in time thirty years’ event.

Tom: That was the sound of 80s-fatigue setting in for me, I think.

Tim: Maybe, but it’s still quite nice, really, even without knowing the original – that tinkly swooshy middle eight in particular is very lovely indeed.

Tom: You’re not wrong about that — it’s lovely — but it now feels like the world has been through the 80s twice, and I’m not sure we really need to keep going. There are quite a few decades out there. I just can’t find anything to grab onto here, if that makes sense; it just sounds like some stock music that’d be in the back of an 80s soap. Nothing wrong with it, just nothing interesting either.

Tim: To be honest, even with knowing the original this is such a reworking it’s almost like a new song, and a good new song at that. Gentle vocals, nice flowing melody and all in all a rather nice listen. I like it.

Madden & Chris Holsten – All About You

“A bit like a clucking chicken”

Tim: I heard Madden’s excellent track Alive recently, and thought to myself “hmm, I wonder if Madden’s done anything else recently” and then it turns out he has. To be more precise, this, which as it happens came out just a couple of weeks back. (Oh, and the HD version of the video is at 50fps, so if you find that as distracting as I do, you might want to switch down.)

Tim: I swear, I’ll never get used to it. But the song? Well, it didn’t start promisingly, because in late 2017 that is, let’s be honest, a fairly generic voice/synth style. With competition like this, you’ve got to be very special to pull that off well, and, again let’s be honest, most of this isn’t.

Tom: And that chorus is very much a “yeah, I see what you were going for there”. A little Random Access Memories, a little… well, a little of a lot of things.

Tim: HOWEVER (and it is a however that deserves the capital letters), when the instrumental breakdown comes along (well, if we’re counting distorted vocal samples as an instrument), it picks up quite a bit, and the rest of the song from that point on is very enjoyable.

Tom: Takes a long time to get there, though, doesn’t it? More than half the song. It’s basically a song where the middle eight is better than everything else, and that’s not a good thing.

Tim: Yes – it would be vastly improved if that middle eight was brought out to be a standard post-chorus. As it is…hmm.

Tom: Also, counterpoint: those vocal samples sound a bit like a clucking chicken.

Tim: OH MY GOD they do and now every part of it is problematic. Thanks, thanks a lot.

MØ – When I Was Young

“This has quite the post-chorus, so listen out for that.”

Tim: New one off MØ, and it’s winter outside, and winter in the video, so let’s naturally set out getting a teensy bit tropical. And this has quite the post-chorus, so listen out for that.

Tim: And that’s a song.

Tom: A ringing endorsement, there. It starts out like almost it’s trying to be a Bond theme, decides not to for the chorus, and then goes somewhere else that’s both interesting and — to me, at least — a bit disappointing.

Tim: I like it, I think – or at least, having listened to it a few times now to write this I’m at least on board with it. That post-chorus did take me a bit by surprise, which I think was what prompted the repeated listens – it’s a while since we’ve a prominent brass line in a dance track, or at least one that I can think of, and it certainly works as a USP for this.

Tom: It’s… well, it’s not bad, I suppose? It’s not that I actively dislike it, I just can’t find anything to particularly like. Like you said, it has a USP at least.

Tim: Definitely more than the video, anyway, which is probably trying to have some sort of narrative but which really comes across as just a tad weird. But it’s mostly okay.

Ill Blue feat. Glowie – Tribalist

“Dodgy synths, upsetting autotune and not a huge amount of melody to speak of.”

Tim: Dodgy synths, upsetting autotune and not a huge amount of melody to speak of.

Tom: You’re not selling this.

Tim: No, because by all rights I should hate this track, which is off a British duo and an Icelandic singer.

Tim: And here’s the thing: I really don’t like it, at all.

Tom: Okay, well done, you sold that well. I was expecting you to try and redeem it, which would be a difficult job.

Tim: Admittedly I don’t hate it, but every moment I’m sitting listening to it I’m thinking “I don’t really like this, why am I listening to it?” Except, I never actually get round to switching it off. When a suggested link pops up in the corner to take me to a song that’s probably better, I click on it, stick that new tab in the background, and switch back to get this going again.

Tom: Why?!

Tim: I really know – despite that awful synth, and the dullness of a lot of it, and the uninventive lyrics, I don’t switch it off. And I have no idea why.

Sanna Nielsen – Innen Du Lämnar Mig

“There’s a massive crane parked outside and Bjorn’s forgotten his lens stabiliser.”

Tim: Much as summer has been lovely, it seems futile to deny that winter has arrived whole-heartedly, so shall we have a deep and meaningful ballad to mark that? That’s a rhetorical question, because we shall.

Tom: “I know we booked this room to film in, but there’s a massive crane parked outside and Bjorn’s forgotten his lens stabiliser. Should we reschedule?” “Nah, just film it anyway.”

Anyway, that’s a pleasant enough ballad. What’s it about?

Tim: The title translates to ‘Before You Leave Me’, and the message is basically “I know you’re about to dump me so I’m kind of feeling I should say it first to maintain my dignity.” Thoroughly depressing, then, but at least it’s sung quite nicely so we can still pretty much enjoy the song anyway, right?

It’s a slow builder, but at least it does build; for some reason it reminded me of old Celine Dion tracks: both the slow build and, in a very specific musical reference, that final outro note.

Tim: Somehow, I find ballads like this more enjoyable if they’re in foreign, and I’m not entirely sure why – maybe because with calm music the words typically take priority, and so if I don’t understand them I don’t get distracted? Whatever the reason, though, this is very pleasant to hear. First of many, then?

The Sound of Arrows – Don’t Worry

“A wonderful slow-builder, and possibly the best one of theirs that I’ve ever heard.”

Tom: From the title, I’ve got a prediction: you’ll love it, I’ll be indifferent. Tim, start your pitch.

Tim: Well, after SIX YEARS, this wonderful band’s second album finally arrived last Friday, and having had plenty of opportunity to listen to it I can declare it, you’ll be relieved but probably not surprised to hear, absolutely wonderful. From it’s glorious intro, through its superb second track Stay Free and beyond all the way to the Lion King stylings of the closing We Will Live Again, via delights like the Moby-esque Wicked Ways, it is a divine listen. Right now, though, we’ll chat about track 4, because that’s the one they’ve just put a video out for.

Tom: Oh. Huh. That… I like that.

Tim: Really? That actually surprises me, because curiously, it’s not one of the best on the album (at least in my view, anyway), and does have a few drawbacks.

Tom: Ah! Then I think this might be the track that’s designed to appeal to the mainstream — hence it’s the first single.

Tim: Well, the first single was actually Beautiful Life, but timing-wise we’ll go with this.

Tom: This is a wonderful slow-builder, and possibly the best one of theirs that I’ve ever heard. Yes, that includes all the previous attempts of yours to promote their tracks to me. Why isn’t it great for you?

Tim: It takes a while to get going, and while that underlying melody that kicks in halfway through is lovely to listen to, it gets repetitive not long after.

Tom: For me, it feels more like the sort of track that’d fit in nicely on Isles of Wonder. Which is a heck of compliment. Remember that? That was a good year.

Tim: When the single biggest political story was George Osborne getting booed. Simpler and better times. But let’s not get lost in nostalgia – let’s talk about the final chorus, which as with most tracks is where everything really shines, especially with those oooh-ooohs coming along. Having said that: I reiterate that the album as a whole is lovely, so just ignore this negativity, put your feet up for 45 minutes, sit back and just listen to it. You owe it to yourself, you really do.

Modiwo – Cosmic Bus

“Transylvanian Pop Hero’s Take the Cosmic Bus to Success”

Tim: I haven’t even heard the track yet but I feel we need to feature it, almost entirely because of the subject line of the PR e-mail: Transylvanian Pop Hero’s Take the Cosmic Bus to Success.

Tom: [sic], I assume?

Tim: Oh yes, and if anything that just adds to the anticipation. Let’s press play and see if this is worth it.

Tim: And now I am so relieved, because that’s just brilliant, for so many reasons.

Tom: …which would be?

Tim: The style of the video! The bus that opens into a stage! The saxophone that comes from nowhere at all that made me do a double take! The inspiring but not stupidly so lyrics! Even – the idea of a cosmic bus itself. Pausing at space traffic lights! Two moons in a shoot-out! There is just so much to love here, and it’s totally wonderful.

Tom: Okay, so here’s the thing: I listened to this just as an audio track first, without the video. And I’ve got to be honest with you: it’s not a great song. And amidst all those exclamation marks, you haven’t actually said anything about the song either. Apart from that saxophone, and, well, fair enough, but the rest isn’t all that great?

Tim: Maybe not great, but it does have something I like in it – partly the uplifting tone, partly, like I said, the positivity in the lyrics. You’re not into it?

Tom: It’s a middle-of-the-pack Eurovision selection track. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s just that without the video’s.. erm, charm? Yeah, let’s go with charm. Without that, it’s only okay.

Tim: Perhaps. So as long as we have videos: can we have more from Transylvania please?

IFA – Leende Guldbruna Ögon

“2017 is upon us, and so of course we have a dance cover of it.”

Tim: Quick backstory: waaaaaay back when, two thirds of a century ago, there was a dreary American country track called Beautiful Brown Eyes, which was later covered as dansband classic Leende Guldbruna Ögon; not one I know myself, but apparently big enough that it had a TV drama named after it. 2017 is upon us, and so of course we have a dance cover of it.

Tom: That’s a lot of genre shifts, and actually ties into something I want to talk about for this weekend’s flashback. But anyway. What’s it like?

Tim: It’s good! (That went from ‘good.’ to good!’ after the key change, in case you were wondering.)

Tom: I’d go with “nice”. I’m normally someone who likes simple melodies, but this was a bit too nursery-rhyme in places for me — perhaps a bit too much of that “dreary” survived. It’s inoffensive and fun, though, and I’ll take it. Bonus points, as you say, for the drop down in the middle eight and the brutal key change back up.

Tim: I don’t know if you bothered to check out the other versions, but it’s interesting to see how a track develops with changing musical vogues throughout time. Sure, it may be a bit slow to truly fit in with 2017 trends, but what’s going on in that post-chorus is fairly standard for now, almost Alan Walker-esque —

Tom: Careful with that, at no point has anyone rearranged every damn syllable.

Tim: Well indeed, hence the ‘almost’ — but it is actually very pleasant to hear, and far more so than 1951’s drudgery.

Dagny – Love You Like That

“A lot of good style points”

Tim: Would you like to hear a new version of Taylor Swift’s tragically under-performing Out of the Woods from Norway’s Dagny?

Tom: Is this a good time to tell my really long joke about Taylor Swift pegging the actor who plays Ian Beale? No? Okay, fine, but the punchline was “are we out of the Woodyatt”, just so you know.

Tim: Probably for the best you didn’t tell the whole thing, then. Here’s the song.

Tim: Good, isn’t it? It’s the chorus that really put me in mind of that similarity within it’s chanted beat by beat repetition of the title and main line, and it works just as well here as it did back then, providing a good hook to dangle the rest of the song around.

Tom: It reminds me of three or four other songs I can’t place, but I think that’s because it’s borrowing — rather than outright ripping off — a lot of good style points. Full marks for that final chorus, too, even if it is a bit, well, out of the woods.

Tim: It does slightly suffer from the comparison, because there’s very little pop music that can match up to 1989-era Taylor, but it’s still a great listen. Lovely.