Sofia – Vacancy

It reminds me of old-school Europop

Tim: Technically, this perhaps should go on the Saturday Rejects pile, as it was submitted for the Greek entry; nothing ever actually came of that, though, since it was rejected out of hand by the organisers, so we’ll assume they had a moment of madness and ignore that and concentrate on the single release it’s getting.

Tim: Quite why they chucked it out is beyond me – it has a proper ‘LISTEN TO ME’ intro, a good fairly catchy chorus, a decent beat and a bridge which works nicely.

Tom: It reminds me of old-school Europop, or even J-Pop to a certain extent. It’s the repetition in the chorus, I think – I can see this turning up on a Bemani CD.

Tim: There’s no key change, and admittedly that comes as a slight let down given the style of the tracks, but I suppose it’s not compulsory.

Tom: It would have helped, though – it does start to drag at the end for me.

Tim: You think? Overall, I reckon it would have been good. Is good, in fact, so let’s hope that it is, as the YouTube uploader rather optimistically put it, ‘the SMASH HIT of the Summer!’

Tom: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s hope it doesn’t sink without a trace.

Anine Stang – Dominoes

Is your head ready to be rocked from side to side?

Tim: Is your head ready to be rocked from side to side?

Tom: Not really. My neck’s been giving me a bit of trouble lately.

Tim: Oh. Well, tough.

Tim: I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve been hearing (and rejecting) a lot of mediocre stuff recently, but I flipping love this. It’s properly vibrant, which is a good thing when it comes to music.

Tom: When it kicks in, it’s bloody amazing.

Tim: Isn’t it? The verses start quiet before building up to each chorus, which is always a nice touch.

Tom: That’s a proper anticipatory build there, and normally it’d be cheesy – but the production here makes it work.

Tim: Indeed, and the choruses themselves check all the boxes: energy, volume, catchiness, singalongability*.

* You can complain, but I challenge you to to think of a better word.

Tom: I can see a Swedish club dancing to this. Long double-bridge, though, but that just makes it sound better when it finally comes back.

Tim: Regarding that, though, is it just me or does the re-entry from the bridge seem a bit off? It feels to me like they’ve chopped out two beats, and I find that mildly disconcerting.

Tom: Really? I don’t think two more beats of drum fill would help anything. Ever.

Aqua – How R U Doin?

It’s certainly not the Aqua we know.

Tim: Two years ago, they released a comeback track that didn’t really lead to anything. This morning, they unveiled their new single, which is out worldwide on Monday, and it’s here.

Tom: Oh dear.

Tim: My thoughts after the first few notes? OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE THEY DONE IT’S AWFUL. Later on? More sort of ‘ehh’. It’s…well, it’s certainly not the Aqua we know, which I suppose is understandable as times have changed. They’ve changed their sound, because they need to fit in with modern music. That’s understandable. But there’s a flaw in their logic: they’re Aqua.

Tom: I always liked Aqua, and there was a bit more variety to their sound than most people think (remember ‘Turn Back Time‘)?

Tim: Actually, I’d completely forgotten that one, and I’m not alone. For the vast majority of people, Aqua will always be the group that made several great but very much not mainstream tracks, and they will never be mainstream.

Tom: Ooh, now I disagree there. Barbie Girl and Cartoon Heroes were definitely mainstream – a weird kind of mainstream, to be sure, but still definitely in the public consciousness.

Tim: Alright, replace ‘not mainstream’ with ‘novelty’ – definitely not what big self-respecting dance clubs play. My point is, whatever it sounds like, this will be the same, just by association. “It’s Aqua? Hell no, I’m not playing that.” This will only appeal to Aqua fans, and sounding like it does it might not now do that; a few quotes from the Facebook page: “not really satisfied – sound of today – but not Aqua worthy!” “What is that?? Where is the great Aqua-Sound?? It’s okay, but… ;(” “It’s not bad, quite like it but if it wasn’t written Aqua on top of it, I couldn’t tell it’s from you.

Tom: To me, the Aqua-sound is mostly made up of Lene’s sqeaky bubblegum singing, and René’s growling vocals. Those are here, at least, even if the rest of their style has been pulled grudgingly into the 21st century.

Tim: The singing, yes, but what about the squeaky bubblegum backing track? It sounds to me more like a genre-shifting remix than an Aqua original. As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay, but it sure as hell isn’t Aqua.

Tom: But the good news: a new album means they might go on tour again – and that’ll be a show worth seeing.

PULS – Lad Det Slå

I liked it from the start.

Tim: This one took me a while, so give it a couple of listens before you dismiss it.

Related pointless thought in the meantime, though: people say ‘it grows on you’ as though that’s good, but another way of saying that is surely just ‘it’ll wear you down eventually’.

Tom: Actually, if I remember right that’s pretty much what happens. The more you listen to a genre of music or an individual track, the more your brain recognises the patterns and gets used to it. But for me, that didn’t happen here: I liked it from the start.

Tim: Good. Stylistically, it goes pretty much all over the place. Google wants me to think the title translates to ‘Let it Beat’, so I’m guessing it’s basically about how dance music is amazing.

Tom: Wrong. I translated the lyrics, and they’re talking about a heartbeat – it’s pretty much your standard dance-track love song.

Tim: Fair enough. It’s the Danish duo’s second single after the similarly messy Superstar a year ago, and I have decided that I think I like it.

Tom: The trouble is, I can’t tell whether I like the track because of the music or because of the video with the woman dancing in front of fire.

Tim: There are also three separate songs this slightly reminds me of, none of which I can think of, irritatingly – the first half-second, the tinkly piano bit, and the high electro bit that first appears about twenty seconds in.

Tom: Also, that “ding ding ding” sound a little after two minutes in? It’ll make loads of people think their iPhone’s just received a text. That’s deliberate – he says ‘iPhone’ in the line slightly after that.

Tim: Finally, two non-musical observations: I’ve not seen many music videos in 1080p, so they get bonus points for effort there as a minor Danish boyband, and also that girl is totally wasting her time with the dark-haired one. What with that ear stud and the wink and everything, you can stroke him all you want, dearie, but he’s not interested.

Tom: Tim, I’m offended at your stereotyping. He might not be gay – he might just have stepped straight out of the 1990s.

Lisa Miskovsky – Got A Friend

The chorus: absolutely love it.

Tim: Hmm. When I first heard this, I loved it, and listened to it again and again and again. Then I started thinking about what I liked about it, and had a realisation.

Tom: Ooh, go on.

Tim: You see, the ‘na-na’ bits: not so keen on, as they leave me wanting more. The verses: ehh, take them or leave them – not particularly offensive, but they’re nothing to crow about. The chorus: absolutely love it. Yet overall, despite not not hugely liking most of it: still absolutely love it.

Tom: You’re absolutely right. It’s a fantastic chorus in need of a better song, isn’t it?

Tim: Pretty much, yeah. The rational part of me knows that the relatively short chorus is nowhere near good enough to make up for the less than inspiring na-na chunks, and so by rights I should think of this as okay at best, but somehow I love it. It just seems to go together and work properly.

Tom: I’m not that enthusiastic – but I will listen to it for that chorus, just one more time.

Same Difference feat. Alcazar – Karma Karma

A bit late to the Slumdog Millionaire bandwagon.

Tim: Same Difference: an X Factor 2008 finalist group whose track we previously covered reached the dizzying heights of number 100 in the UK charts. Alcazar: a fairly well-known Swedish pop group, whose biggest success internationally was 2003’s Crying at the Discotheque and whose most recent activity was a rather good 2010 Melodifestivalen entry, Headlines. For some reason – can’t quite see any particular logic – they’ve decided to team up.

Tom: Sounds like they’re a bit late to the Slumdog Millionaire bandwagon.

Tim: It is repetitive, and it is catchy, and it is pretty much what you’d get if you looked ‘pop music’ up in a dictionary, if you owned some weird dictionary that had videos in it instead of words.

Tom: It’s bloody not. I haven’t properly cringed listening to a pop song in a long time, but I did at this. It’s retro in all the worst ways: it reminds me of a dozen songs I hated when I was younger, and seems to jam in some Asian references and chord progressions that seem incredibly out of place.

Tim: Seriously? Because overall, I have to say: I think it’s brilliant.

Tom: I’m sorry to use this as a baseline, Tim, but I would honestly rather listen to the Black Eyed Peas’ “The Time (Dirty Bit)” than Karma Karma. Hell, I think I’d rather listen to dubstep. Now that’s saying something.

Tim: NO! I will NOT let that stand. You are WRONG. Just plain WRONG.

Extra points should be awarded for chaining together about five million ‘woah’s, and the bass line for some reasons makes me think of Super Mario Land. The only thing I’m not hugely keen on is the bridge exit, which is… odd, and I don’t really know whether I dislike it or not.

Tom: I almost thought the key change might redeem the song, but it doesn’t. It’s just as dire, only a couple of semi-tones higher.

Tim: Actually, scratch that – I’ve heard it several times now and it’s great. Like the rest of it.

Tom: I tried listening a second time, and it got worse. Probably because I knew what was coming.

Tim: And I now see the logic of the collaboration: together, they can make Proper Pop. And that is Good.

Tom: They can’t, and it isn’t.

Tim: WRONG.

Andreas Johnson – One Man Army

Energetic instrumentation, choruses and YouTube compression.

Tom: Ooh, Andreas Johnson. This bodes well.

Tom: Those opening notes have so much promise. It’s just waiting to burst out into a massive chorus!

Tim: Now, this isn’t as big or as loud as Solace was, but we still have the traditionally energetic instrumentation, choruses and YouTube compression that we expect from Herr Johnson, and I like this considerably. It’s basically your typical ‘I’ll do anything for you’ love song but ramped up to way beyond the usual.

Tom: And somehow it doesn’t seem melodramatic: I don’t know if it’s refuge in audacity or just very good production, but this sounds lovely. And how can an electric guitar part be ‘the quiet bit’? That’s amazing.

Tim: One of the best things about it is how just as you think it might be settling into repeat until fade territory, it comes back and blasts you with a bridge full of reasons why this person’s so great, why he loves her so much, and then a final declaration of devotion once again. If you’re paying attention to the lyrics, it’s beautiful.

Tom: Maybe when I go back and press ‘play’ again, I’ll do just that.

Tim: On the other hand, if you’re just paying attention to the lyrics, you’re missing out on a whole lot of fantastic music, so don’t do that.

Isis Gee – How About That

A song I have trouble paying attention to.

Tim: Information: I spent twenty minutes trying to think what the first three notes of this chorus reminded me of, then gave up and started writing this post, which was to begin with the words ‘HELP ME.’ Just as I’d finished, I realised what it was, so now we can just start listening properly.

Tom: Oh, what the hell is that? I know it!

Tim: Twenty minutes. You think I’m going to give you the answer just like that?

Tom: You son of a bitch.

Tim: And boy, can this lady hold a note.

To be honest, though, this is a song I have trouble paying attention to. It has a decent beat, and a good enough melody, but that’s just it – it’s good enough. The chorus is catchy for a brief moment, until it finishes, and the verses are nothing special, or at least not for me.

Overall thought: why can’t the video focus a bit more on the motorbikes than the music? They’d be more interesting.

Tom: Got it! Those notes. I know what it is now. Right, what do you think of the song?

Alex Saidac – We Shine

There is a moment in this song at which you will raise your eyebrows and think ‘huh’.

Tim: There is a moment in this song at which you will raise your eyebrows and think ‘huh’.

Tim: Now, this is very, very odd. Verses that, for me, are almost unlistenable, and chorus that, for me, is almost ‘repeat until death’. I don’t really know what market is being aimed at, here – she’s a professional DJ, so I suppose she must know her audience, but there are people I know who will like the verse, and there are people I know who will like the chorus. Those groups do not intersect – they barely mingle, in fact.

Tom: A bit of techie geekery here: in the waveform that shows up in Soundcloud’s player, you can actually see the difference between verses and chorus. That doesn’t normally happen on modern dance records: they’re all normally compressed into one glutinous mass.

I’m in the chorus-liking group, by the way – and you’re right, I did raise my eyebrows.

Tim: Overall, I have to give it a thumbs-down – much as I love the chorus, the verses cancel that out, and there’s no real big hands in the air moment to get excited about.

Tom: It’s a shame, because it is a lovely chorus, at least to begin with. Shame about the rest of it.

Three – Lucky Number

A faceful of autotune

Tim: Teenage triplets, and identical ones at that.

Tom: I was going to make a “be still my beating heart”, but I’m getting a more “Children of the Corn” vibe off them. They’re really rather creepy.

Tim: As a girlband they’ve been a while in the making, but here’s their first single, so get ready for a faceful of autotune, although rest assured that it does calm down after a bit.

Tom: That is, indeed, a faceful of autotuning.

Tim: Now, I think this is what they call ‘catchy’. It’s happy, it’s chirpy, and it’s rather nice.

Tom: It’s almost too much sugar, and that’s saying something from someone who used to listen to rather too much J-Pop.

Tim: I do like the ending, which is abrupt, but not in such a way that it feels like someone’s just turned the microphones off by accident, what with the final revelation of the (not remotely surprising) lucky number.

Tom: They actually appear to have used DTMF tones – or something very close to them – as an actual melody line. Top works to whoever wrote that.

Tim: It also has the benefit of being educational – now, children, you can greet people wherever you are in the world!

Tom: I just generally SPEAK LOUDLY and SLOWLY. It seems to work.