Damir Kedžo – Divlji Vjetre

“This from Croatia ended up also being one of my favourites.”

Tim: We should probably mention the fact that it’s Eurovision week – obviously the contest itself has been cancelled, but there’s still the odd thing happening here and there. As ever, we had a listen through the tracks, and although we concluded that overall it not taking place is probably no major loss, there were a few good ones.

Tom: Yep. It’s harsh, but this was going to be the Eurovision of Dull Mediocre Ballads. Still, there were a few highlights.

Tim: We’ve already featured Britain’s, and this from Croatia ended up also being one of my favourites.

Tim: It’s a ballad, and it’s a big ballad. He’s singing about Wild Winds, and how the weather has turned to shit now the target of the song has left him, rain as cold as ice, leaves blowing off the trees and autumn colours all over the place; to be honest I quite like autumn colours, but I guess it takes all sorts.

Tom: I think it says a lot that this was one of our highlights of this year’s entries: this would have been middle-of-the-pack most years, I reckon. It’s certainly a more retro Eurovision song: big key change, big drumbeat at the end.

Tim: Beyond my first sentence, I have two main observations: first, I find myself staggered that, given the lyrics, they didn’t stick a wind machine in front of the backing singers, and secondly, that’s a great key change. Not just because of how it’s performed, or for everything that goes with it, but because right up until he lifts the vocal note, there’s every sign that it’s coming to the end of the song.

Tom: The ol’ fake ending. It can work: and it’ll certainly give a big back-from-the-brink moment to use in the voting recap.

Tim: If you’re not paying much attention to it – you don’t like ballads, you’ve just come back from the toilet – you may well be expecting the song to end, but suddenly HOLY MOLY no it very much does not end. And I think that’s marvellous.

Samir & Viktor & TIX – Karantän

“A fun track, to be commended for its dedication to cybersecurity.”

Tim: A couple of months back, TIX (Norwegian, previously most notable for co-writing Sweet But Psycho) recorded Karantene; you can probably guess what it’s about. It went big in Norway, and it seems he fancied having some success in Sweden as well, so he got on the blower to Samir & Vikor, as you would.

Tom: Who are basically the slightly-more-polished teenage-appeal version of yesterday’s Two Friends.

Tim: Indeed. There’s a bit of a rude word in the first line, though it’s hardly as if there’s any work for it not to be safe for, so press play!

Tim: Obviously there isn’t actually any lockdown happening in Sweden, so it’s a little jarring to see them jumping around the recording studio singing a chorus that starts with line about sitting at home with no pay, but never mind that, it’s a catchy tune.

Tom: I was going to say: it’s an interesting choice of song to translate. A quick-and-dirty machine translation reveals that they’re singing downbeat lyrics to an upbeat tune, which is always a brave choice. Particularly when the lyrics are quite so, uh, of-the-moment.

Tim: It’s weird – brands in the lyrics left right and centre like this normally irritate the hell out of me, but all I’m mainly left wondering here is why FaceTime and Skype are getting all the action when most people are using Zoom.

Tom: Because Zoom is terrible and it’s going nowhere near my laptop. Anyway.

Tim: Hmm, good point. So all in all, it’s a fun track, to be commended for its dedication to cybersecurity; something enjoyable to come out of a bad situation, with a lovely key change as the cherry on top. What’s to complain about?

Neon – Echte Freunde

“There aren’t many songs here which manage to actually make my jaw drop, but blimey, that key change managed it.”

Tim: These guys again, singing about Real Friends. Apparently they’ve been best friends for a couple of years now, so they’re the perfect act to sing this song. Ain’t that sweet?

Tom: If you’re sending me a video with that schlager channel’s branding in the thumbnail, then I’m already interested. Not because it’s necessarily good, but because it’s almost certainly going to be fun.

Tim: Well there’s a slogan for them right there.

Tim: And I’m not sure why, but I really wanted that to end with a d-d-d-DUM on drums.

Tom: Me too: it’s because of that slightly dissonant brass stab that’s a few bars earlier: you’re expecting something to resolve it.

Tim: Aside from that, how fun! I pressed play, and just a few seconds later I was smiling, because there’s a lot of joy in this song and it’s infectious. It was when the trumpet first hit that I knew we were in for a good tune, and the next three and a bit minutes just served to confirm that. A catchy chorus, two enthusiastic singers and a key change that is straight out of Songwriting for Beginners.

Tom: There aren’t many songs here which manage to actually make my jaw drop, but blimey, that key change managed it. Could it stand to be one verse shorter? Sure. Are their voices occasionally a bit more like two lads who’ve decided to do karaoke down the local pub? Yep. But none of that matters, because this is German schlager, and I can absolutely see these two going on reunion tours in fifty years’ time, their voices gravelly and half an octave lower.

Tim: And we’ll be there in the audience.

Boy In Space – Forever Young

“Doesn’t sound anything like you’ll expect it to.”

Tom: Forever Young, again?

Tim: Weird coincidence: yesterday I was trying to think of my favourite cover song to submit for a work playlist, and naturally my mind briefly went to One Direction, and then I ended up listening to the Interactive version, and (for a few seconds at least) the German rap version; later on, I found out that Boy In Space has just released his own version – which doesn’t sound anything like you’ll expect it to.

Tim: Forever Young’s a difficult one, really – it’s been covered so often that you’d imagine it’d be hard for anyone to do anything new with it, and yet pleasingly Mr Space here seems to have managed it.

Tom: It’s not a song that I’d have expected to become a standard, certainly. “Perish like a fading horse” continues to be an incredibly clunky lyric. It’s the power of a good chorus, I guess.

And you’re right that he’s done something new, although that something new appears to be “having almost zero percussion whatsoever”.

Tim: We’ve a lovely dreamy sound to it that I don’t know of having been done before, even though it suits the song really really well – it’s got a relaxed tone that gives the song a more reflective note, a sort of ‘sitting in a field contemplating what it might actually be like’ vibe, and that really works for me.

There are bits I’m not keen on, mind – the vocal shift in the chorus comes as a bit of a shock, and while the constant build through the second verse and chorus is lovely, it’s frustrating that it leads to absolutely nothing.

Tom: Yep, that’s my big complaint. It’s the lack of percussion: it implies strongly that at some point the drums are going to kick in, possibly even with a Phil Collins-style, In-The-Air-Tonight triumphant drop, but… no. This is just the style.

Tim: But for the feeling it brings, and for the interpretation, I do like it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: there’s just no contest.

Dagny – Somebody

“A good approximation of a CHVRCHES song in style, and I have no problems at all with that.”

Tom: After yesterday, when we talked about the Weeknd’s style, I’ve started noticing that boots-and-cats synth-percussion drumbeat everywhere, as if someone reset the pop industry’s synthesisers back to “80s default”. Is that just me being more aware of it, or has this suddenly come back into fashion?

Tom: The trouble is, it’s also all I can remember from this track.

Tim: Hmm. Bit harsh, I’d say, as there’s a decent chorus in there, and I’d be almost certain there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on there, or at least pulling of focus. This is, to me, a good approximation of a CHVRCHES song in style, and I have no problems at all with that.

Tom: There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s a reasonable pop song. The chorus melody, now I listen back to it, is really decent. But I was distracted by trying to work out which balcony in Kings Cross she’s filming on, and honestly, that’s not a great sign, is it?

Tim: No, admittedly that isn’t. Mind you, Dagny’s the sort of artist where every time I see the name I think “surely they should be getting big over here right now”, so hopefully that won’t be too long.

The Naked and Famous – Blinding Lights

“Risky, but sure, it’s lockdown, why not.”

Tim: Covering a six month old hit by one of the world’s biggest acts? Risky, but sure, it’s lockdown, why not.

Tom: Well, that started out disappointing, didn’t it? The thing that draws you into Blinding Lights is that driving boots-and-cats percussion matched with a really dark vocal. This is… not an improvement.

Tim: Probably worth mentioning that as far as The Weeknd goes, I am basically entirely neutral – his music’s fine, he has a ridiculous name, that’s kind of it, so I’m open to this, with no advance feelings at all.

Tom: Whereas for me, I really like Blinding Lights, and I’ve been really impressed with the live performances he’s been doing: he’s someone who knows the medium well enough to play around with it.

Tim: And so, it’s…perfectly fine. To start with, anyway, as for the first 49 seconds I was wondering ‘why have they done this?’, because it doesn’t do anything new, doesn’t bring anything of them to it. But then it changed! The second and fourth lines of the chorus, we’ve their echo-y chanting sound, and then the guitar post-chorus is definitely new and notable, and now it’s worthwhile.

Tom: You’re right, that electric-guitar is a really interesting way to play with the synth line. And this does redeem itself by the final chorus. The additional two-beat hesitation in there is clever. It’s just that there seems to be so much missing up until then.

The Postal Service’s cover of Against All Odds did this right: it’s so different in genre, at least to start, that it doesn’t invite immediate comparisons. By the time it actually gets going, you’re not expecting to hear the original.

Tim: Better or worse is obviously up to your genre preference – but it terms of a cover, it’s good.

Dolly Style – Boom Boom Box

“We’ve got a decent dance routine to go with it so the important stuff’s there.”

Tim: Tom, you’ve always had time for country music, right?

Tom: Yep. And I maintain that country music — by which I mean modern pop-country, the sort of thing you get on US radio stations — is pretty much just schlager with different instruments. Of course, when a European band tries to imitate that…

Tim: Now, admittedly, this is about as country as 5, 6, 7, 8 but the intentions were good so I think that counts, and we’ve got a decent dance routine to go with it so the important stuff’s there.

Tom: Good intentions and a dance routine. That is basically every basic Europop act, isn’t it?

Tim: I’d say minimum requirements, certainly. I don’t know what my favourite part about the ‘yes, we’re honestly playing the instruments’ video is – it’s definitely her with the banjo, but it’s 50-50 between just after a minute where she decisively stops playing while the music carries on, or around two minutes where she’s playing but there’s nothing in the music.

Tom: Or the fact that the drummer is almost always covered by someone else while playing, or else cut away from so fast that it’s extremely difficult to tell if anything’s being hit remotely correctly. Maybe she can drum! But, uh, I’m not convinced.

Tim: Either way, it’s a cracker of a track, cracker of a video, and when lockdown’s over I’d like to arrange a street party where we all do that dance, please.

Nordik Sonar – Fiction No Science

“Lovely blend of 80s synths and modern sounding melodies”

Tim: We got sent this the other day; they’re two guys, Benjamin and Linus, chatting about how the video is a “colourful declaration of love to electronic pop” and how they’re using bright colours to “celebrate pop culture”, and that’s lovely and everything but there’s one main question: do you miss BWO?

Tom: I’d actually forgotten about BWO, which is unduly harsh, because they made some really good songs. The fact I can still remember a few of the tracks off Big Science more than a decade later is basically the biggest endorsement I can give them. So while I wouldn’t say I miss them, I certainly wouldn’t say no to tracks along those lines.

Tim: See, I do miss BWO, and this song brings us the lovely blend of 80s synths and modern sounding melodies – it’s that pre-chorus build that really drives home the similarity for me, although there are lots of other small bits in there as well, and it sounds absolutely wonderful for it.

Tom: There are some really good choices in here. I don’t think it’s quite as fun as BWO, but then it’s unfair to just compare them to another band. This stands well on its own.

Tim: Beyond that, there’s those lovely twinkly bits, and really just how everything fits together nicely. Sure, the pause before the chorus could maybe do with being a couple of beats shorter, but otherwise this is absolutely great. Love it.

LÉON – Who You Lovin

“It really all does hang on that chorus working, doesn’t it?”

Tim: Nice one for you here from Sweden to start your week off; nothing to say about it in advance really, except: press play.

Tom: Huh. Starts slow, doesn’t it?

Tim: It does, yes, and so much so that I was a bit disappointed after that first chorus ended, a distinct sense of ‘is that it, are we back to the dull verse already?’, but no, of course we’re not. The second verse is bigger and bolder than the first, the second chorus lasts a decent amount of time, in for a middle eight, back out for a brief chorus and then that absolutely lovely closing instrumental section.

Tom: It really all does hang on that chorus working, doesn’t it? And I can see how a melody like that could grate. I’m not as convinced about the chorus as you seem to be, but sure, it’ll do.

Tim: Good, and that was pretty much my thought after I first heard it. It took me a couple of goes to get this – but then, since the chorus got stuck in my head immediately, I didn’t really care.

Tom: And for once, the aesthetic of the music video fits that: it does sound like the sort of melody and vocal timbre that would fit well in the 70s.

Tim: Yep, and despite all that sounding like a modern song as well. Yes, I stand my my ‘dull first verse’ assessment, but boy does that last closing section make up for it.

Jon Henrik Fjällgren – The Avatar

“He’s been joiking since before KEiiNO made it cool, and now he’s taken the bold step of basically nicking some Disney promo.”

Tim: He’s been joiking since before KEiiNO made it cool, and now he’s taken the bold step of basically nicking some Disney promo.

Tom: That is… pretty blatant, really, isn’t it? Is he trying out for the soundtrack of Avatar 2 or something?

Tim: Hard to write about this, really, beyond ‘I like the sound of it, and that’s an exceptionally lovely closing segment’, what with it not really being any form of pop song.

Tom: Right! This really does sound like it’s some… well, I was going to say “stock music”, but that’s too harsh. Movie score, then.

Tim: Unlike any of his other ones we’ve featured, which have either had featured singers or been Melodifestivalen entries, there’s no readily identifiable verse or chorus structure (or at least not to my ears, with me not getting any of the lyrics), and it’s arguably better suited to being a nature documentary soundtrack. So I guess people could ask why we’re featuring it, and the answer to that is simple: I like the sound of it, and that’s an exceptionally lovely closing segment.