Birgir – Home

“A combination of familiarity and novelty is generally what sells pop music.”

Tim: I do like it, Tom, when very good looking people turn out to also be very good at making music. Today it’s the turn of Birgir Steinn Stefánsson, whose previous track we both largely liked. Quick heads up: the sound quality on the YouTube clip is somewhat atrocious, so if you’ve got access to a streaming service of some sort, you might want to use that instead.

Tim: The main criticism we had previously was that it sounded slightly derivative of other tracks; this one doesn’t have that problem remotely as much.

Tom: A combination of familiarity and novelty is generally what sells pop music, and I still reckon there’s a lot of familiarity here. You can trace the elements here back to all over the last ten years, but they’re pulled together well.

Tim: But this did give me the most obscure ‘sounds like’ I think I’ve ever had, with a ‘GAH, what I do want that to spin off into’ in the run up to the chorus. Took me a good ten minutes to work it out, but it was in fact the 2012 Belarusian entry to Eurovision. Third from bottom in its semi-final, but I quite liked it.

Tom: Astonishing.

Tim: BUT ANYWAY, this song. Takes a while to get there, but boy when it does, that second chorus is a blinder, as is pretty much everything that follows it; listening a second time, that first chorus stuck out at me more than it had done previously as well. All in all, lovely stuff.

Tom: And a note for having a Proper Ending as well. It stays exactly as long as it should, no less, no more. That’s underrated.

Smith & Thell – Dumb

“Please, don’t delete this.”

Tim: New discovery: about two and a half years ago, Smith & Thell removed roughly everything they had every done from the internet, and indeed elsewhere: YouTube videos and SoundCloud tracks all gone, no songs on Spotify or up for purchase, anywhere. All gone, completely.

Tom: Well, that’s bold. Dramatic PR stunt, getting angry with old work, or a Big Massive Change In Direction?

Tim: Big Massive Change In Direction: from dancey numbers like Kill It With Love (still up unofficially in dodgy quality on Vimeo if you want to remind yourself) to more boring standard guitar stuff. So it’s slightly understandable – forget the past, we don’t do that any more – until you realise that actually, their new track is very much closer to the old stuff.

Tom: You’re not wrong there.

Tim: In fact, what we’ve got is a really, really good blend of the two styles, with a U2-esque beginning, and continuing undercurrent, of guitars and drums and standard band-style singing, which then quickly adds on some synths and develops eventually full-blown dance banger territory for the second chorus and what follows. And I absolutely love that idea.

Tom: It does, but there’s something wrong with the production here, or at least in the version that’s been sent up to YouTube. Everything’s been gated so loudly that it’s difficult to make out the vocals: there’s no headroom anywhere in there. There’s a really great vocal quality hidden in there, but it’s been pushed so loud and limited so heavily that it’s almost painful to listen to at times.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: Yes, I’m complaining about the ‘loudness war’, but it’s rare to actually make such a difference. Either that or my ears are blocked.

Tim: Well, I kind of get what going for (and it’s not YouTube, the studio version’s the same), but I don’t find it a problem. The two styles are blended together so so well, and it’s a track I can listen to many times over, particularly once you add the great “luh-luh-luh-love me” bit in that pre-chorus which I find a particular highlight. And that higher melody in the middle eight? Also great. In fact it’s ALL GREAT. So please, don’t delete this.

Causes – Let It Rain

“It didn’t need another chorus, it just needed a bigger final one.“

Tim: Causes, a Netherlands based band, who…

Tom: Are covering East 17?

Tim: Again, the wrong option you’ve jumped in with. No, it’s a new song, and to find out more you can just read the video.

Tom: Well, that’s a really irritating video.

Tim: It is slightly distracting, yes, as I was paying so much attention to reading their story that I had to go back to remind myself what the track was like.

Tom: Yep, background tab right away.

Tim: Fortunately, re-listening didn’t bother me so much because it’s a damn good track that I’ll happily listen to multiple times. The sound is good from the start, it brings a great happy message (‘let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, before you know it you’ll be dry again’ is a lovely lyric).

Tom: I’m not sure it’s enough, really, but it’s… well, it’s inoffensive. I’ll admit I felt unsatisfied by the ending: despite there being one additional vocal line, that last chorus feels about the same as the first one. Just when it feels like the track might be going somewhere, it stops dead. It didn’t need another chorus, it just needed a bigger final one.

Tim: You might be right there, I suppose, but all in all it just seems…nice. And right now, I’ll take that.

Per Gessle feat. Helene Josefsson – Name You Beautiful

“It’s genuinely lovely, isn’t it?”

Tim: Lots of things have Official Songs, particularly sport tournaments.

Tom: Augh, we’re not doing the Big Horrible Corporate-Sponsored World Cup Song, are we?

Tim: What, with its lyric that is literally just Coca-Cola’s advertising strapline?no, no we’re not. Instead, right now it’s the turn of the 2018 World Table Tennis Championship.

Tom: Never mind.

Tim: It kicks off in a couple of weeks in Helmstad in Sweden, and here’s the song, with a lot of things to like about it.

Tom: Huh. Bluegrass fiddle. That is not something you usually hear in pop music. Neither is that vocal quality, and to be fair, neither’s that key change.

Tim: No, and yet I think we’d all benefit if that situation changed. I heard it on my standard New Music Friday playlist when I was in the shower, and got out just a few seconds before the key change came along, and suddenly my day was all set to be happy and fun. The strings leapt back in, Helene’s vocal and upbeat lyrics returned, and the whole thing just put me in a really, really good mood. Obviously I played it again, and could hear the rest of the song properly (particularly that fantastic middle eight), and yep – it’s made me feel really, really great.

Tom: It’s genuinely lovely, isn’t it? It’s not going to light up the world any time soon, but it’s actually got a really good balance between regular pop structures, interesting new things, and good composition, performance and production.

Tim: In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a song that’s had this effect on me in quite some time, maybe not since I first heard voXXclub a few months back. I love it.

Oscar Zia feat. Leslie Tay – Kyss Mig i Slo-mo

“That’s… actually pretty original as song concepts go.“

Tim: Last seen around here being my favourite finalist of Melodifestivalen 2016, but now Oscar’s back from the hairdresser’s and all singing in Swedish.

Tom: I love titles that I can translate by just reading them out loud.

Tim: You can probably guess the title yourself, though the rest of song’s slightly in reverse – kind of a “what are we waiting for, it’s been ages, just kiss me, but slowly so it’s nice and sensual and all that.”

Tom: That’s… actually pretty original as song concepts go.

Tim: A fair mix of pressure and romance, which sums up the song as well really, as we’ve a gentle and somewhat soulful verse combined with a heftier almost dance-y chorus, which I’d say works well enough – he certainly has the vocal skills to pull it off.

Tom: I’m less sure about what appears to be a synth imitating a motorbike in the background, and I reckon that middle eight changes the style in an odd way that doesn’t really fit in. But yes, there’s nothing actually wrong here.

Tim: The production and melody are all good as well, so it’s all pretty great, really. Nice one.

Lichtblick – Tausend und eine Nacht

“Those synths in the pre-chorus are right out of the early 2000s.”

Tim: Finishing up the week, we’re still female, still electro (technically), but I think you’ll have a bit more time for this, A Thousand and One Nights…

Tim: Better?

Tom: Ahahaha. That is not electropop. I mean, yes, it is pop, and it is made with electronics, but you’re right to finish the week off on this one, I’m much happier.

Tim: Oh, I’m very glad to hear that. It’s the debut single from the four of them, who are (according to the YouTube description, at least) the first schlager girl group in Germany. I’m having trouble believing that’s true, but if this is what we’re getting then I’m all for it – their name, after all, does translate as Ray of Hope.

Tom: See, this is still a bit forgettable. If I was blind to music genres, I’d rate this the same as the previous few days’ attempts — but blimey, those synths in the pre-chorus are right out of the early 2000s, and they hit every nostalgia button. I can’t not like it.

Tim: Would I have liked a key change? Yes, of course I would, because that build up into the final chorus was pleading for one. Otherwise: VERY PROMISING.

Maja Francis – Stressed

“It’s like a discount CHVRCHES!”

Tim: If you’re like me, you might get annoyed by the lyrics video, which has that font previously found on camcorders but now exclusively and overly used to signify that we are officially Back In The Eighties. You might then also start wondering which is more annoying: using that font and applying a home camcorder effect to the video, making it look crap, or using that font and not applying a camcorder effect to the video, making it out of place and somewhat half-arsed.

Tom: I… I will be honest, Tim, I didn’t wonder any of that.

Tim: WELL THEN, I guess you’re just not like me. Chorus, though, made me forgive and almost forget all that.

Tom: It’s like a discount CHVRCHES! I’ll admit that chorus has a couple of lovely moments in it: the whistle-register bits and the percussion in the back both hit home for me. But it’s not stuck in my head afterwards, and it didn’t really grab much of my interest beyond that. Why did it make you forgive and forget?

Tim: Because that’s a very enjoyable chorus, which as far as I’m concerned makes the whole thing worth it. Stylistically I’m not sure the gentle plinky guitar strumming quite fits with all the synth beats that dominate, and I’d rather it didn’t take until we got to chorus until a melody as good as that arrived, but since it does: I’m sold.

Bishat – Dream About Me

“That chorus isn’t typically one I’d go for, but it was done well enough that I kept listening.”

Tim: Bishat’s off Sweden, bringing us this as her new one; I was ambivalent about it until the chorus came along, and then my views changed.

Tom: I was really startled by that chorus, and not in a good way.

Tim: Well, quite, as the first time I heard this I wasn’t so keen – that chorus isn’t typically one I’d go for, but it was done well enough that I kept listening, and I’m very glad I did. The closing section was unexpected: I thought “huh, this middle eight is going on a long time” before I realised what was actually happening, and – who’d have thought it – that actually help me come round to enjoying the chorus.

Tom: Yes, I can see this one being a grower. Not for me, I think, but I can at least appreciate what they were trying to do.

Tim: It’s unusual, it’s inventive, and, like yesterday, here that helps it. Nice one.

The Vanjas – My Girls

“Nothing wrong with that, but it feels a little bit like a missed opportunity.”

Tim: Lots of 1980s inspired sound around at the moment; not so much from the 60s or 70s, though. Here’s a Swedish remedy, and the blurb says that it’s “about a girl who’s waiting and wishing to be with her friends” and is “a soundtrack to hanging with your crew”. Sound good?

Tom: Yep, that is clearly inspired by Motown.

Tim: I pressed play, I think “ooh, it’s like Hairspray all over again”, and although I’m appalled to discover the film of it is now 11 years old, it’s still a great musical. At other times we’ve got elements of Blondie in there, and all in all I am a big fan of this, not least just because it’s different.

Tom: It is, but what hasn’t happened here is any sort of updating for the modern era — yes, the production is a bit cleaner, but this could pretty much have come directly from the 1960s. Nothing wrong with that, but it feels a little bit like a missed opportunity. But you’re right, it is different.

Tim: I don’t want to say ‘new’, because obviously it takes so many cues from half a century ago, but it feels new because it’s unusual. And unusual doesn’t always mean ‘good’, but here…here it does. It turns out they’ve been going a while, so if you’ll excuse I’ll just head off for a rummage around their back catalogue.

Tom: Ooh, matron.

Donkeyboy – It’ll Be Alright

“Sort of, warm and snuggly, really.”

Tim: The follow up to Kaleidoscope, and unlike that one we’ve a lyric video now that doesn’t chop out the audio randomly. Hooray!

Tim: There’s room for improvement, we’re told, and we might be feeling down, but it’ll be good, because we’ve got Donkeyboy to look after us. And I think that’s a lovely sentiment for a song.

Tom: You’re not wrong. A lovely sentiment, three minutes long, and a generally nice song. Can Britain send this to Eurovision instead? It wouldn’t win, but at least it wouldn’t be an embarrassment.

Tim: Well, they’re Norwegian, so they probably wouldn’t be up for it. Fairly brief, with an abrupt start and ending, but that does at least stop it being too repetitive – it’s on its way there as it is, although I think that’s the one criticism I’ve got of it. Other than that, I think this is really rather nice.

Tom: Yes — it’s not going to light up a playlist or storm the charts, I suspect, but you picked the right word there. Nice.

Tim: Sort of, warm and snuggly, really.