Owl City – New York City

“We have Mr City to turn to as a reliable source of pop music that can be counted on to sound just fine.”

Tim: Chances are, you hear “Owl City”, you think “cheery and largely inoffensive pop”, correct?

Tom: And a really good soundtrack to a Disneyland parade.

Tim: Ooh, that is really good, and you’ll be delighted to hear his new one does absolutely nothing to counter that assumption.

Tom: You’re not wrong there. Those lyrics are… well, yes, “chirpy” is certainly about right, although I feel like “did you forget your phone cord / we’ll buy one at the next small town” might be a contender for the worst lyric of 2018.

Tim: It is enjoyable, it is chirpy, it is a complete summation of Owl City. And you know what? I like that. I like that in these turbulent times, when it sometimes feels like everything is turning to poo, we have Mr City to turn to as a reliable source of pop music that can be counted on to sound just fine.

Tom: And, even if I can’t get behind the words, at least there’s a pleasingly generic Americana road-trip video to watch. Which is basically what I expected.

Tim: You might not get anything special, but you know you’ll get something nice and listenable. And that’s reassuring.

Digital Farm Animals, Shaun Frank, Dragonette – Tokyo Nights

“I found my foot actually tapping, Tim!”

Tom: Okay, good, let’s carry on with Female-Fronted Electropop week, then. I’ll be honest: I’m starting to find all the tracks pretty much indistinguishable.

Tim: Well, let me change your mind. We had a work party a couple of months back and they got Tokio Myers off Britain’s Got Talent in as a guest performer, which was quite cool, except he was in the middle as like a headliner sandwiched between a whole load of DJs and music performers, so he kind of killed the vibe when we all stood still to watch him, which was a bit of a shame.

Tom: Good story.

Tim: Cheers. This is Tokyo Nights.

Tom: Okay, at least this isn’t bland. I found my foot actually tapping, Tim! That’s a rare thing!

Tim: Hooray! Digital Farm Animals have a pretty good record as far as this site is concerned; Shaun Frank we’ve not featured before; Dragonette is, well, Dragonette, so obviously brilliant. All together, we’ve got a song that starts out like a Chainsmokers track and then gets a lot better, and stays a lot better.

Tom: Apart from that second verse. At least, I think it’s the second verse? Not everything’s where I expect it to be.

Tim: Yeah, there is a slightly weird structure to it, sticking an extra chorus in before the first pre-chorus, which got me a little confused the first time I heard it as well. Aside from that I really do quite like this, particularly the way her off Dragonette joins in the vocals on the second verse to keep it a bit interesting. Well, I say particularly that bit, that’s just one small bit that contributes to making pretty much the whole thing being great.

Tom: The additional synths that crop up as we come out of the middle eight, too. It’s not a world-beating single or anything, but it’s not bad.

Tim: NICE ONE.

Sandro Cavazzo – High With Somebody

“A video that’s really quite delightful.”

Tim: Last heard of providing vocals for Avicii, Sandro’s brought up a new solo song and with it a video that’s really quite delightful.

Tim: Every time a three minute (ish) song comes along, particularly at this time of year, I find myself wondering if it’d make a good Eurovision track. Here, of course: no. Well, unless they could get the guy in the rabbit suit up on stage doing stuff that would, let’s face it, probably bring the EBU into disrepute, so best not try.

Instead, let’s just enjoy the song, and even more enjoy the video – I’n fairly sure, after all, that that’s what we’re meant to do.

Tom: And I do enjoy it: but without it, I’m really not sure I’d think the song was any good. You’re right when you say it’s a delightful video; it’s just for a song that would be irritatingly chirpy otherwise.

Tim: Yep, that’s pretty much my feeling as well: fairly sure I wouldn’t enjoy the song anywhere near as much as I do if the video wasn’t there – I may well dismiss is as some twee waste of three decent minutes – but since the video is there, and I saw that before just hearing the song on its own, I’m all happy. And irritatingly chirpy.

Luis Fonsi, Demi Lovato – Échame La Culpa

“This has a billion views on YouTube and you’ve probably never heard of it.”

Tom: This has a billion views on YouTube and you’ve probably never heard of it.

Tom: I’ve been travelling through southern Florida the last week or so, spending a lot of time listening to Spanish-language pop stations. Tim, there is an entire, massive pop music market that no one in Britain has heard of, and it’s got some really good songs going. This hit number one in nearly every Spanish-speaking country (and Lebanon, oddly) — and it didn’t even break the UK Top 40 when it was released back in November.

Tim: Hardly surprising – Despacito may have gone and got massive, but only after Justin got on board, and it became May when people were up for summer party tunes.

Tom: Yes, yes, but: it was massive in all the Spanish-speaking countries before that. And there are a LOT of them. Anyway: I’m not treating this one as a Flashback because the inevitable more-English remix has just been released.

Tim: Ah, well, there you go.

Tom: And, somehow, it’s just not quite the same. Maybe they should have got Bieber in again.

Tim: What, and have him singing about Doritos again? No thanks.

Kylie Minogue – Stop Me From Falling

“It’s going for a big pop number, and it succeeds as far as I’m concerned.”

Tom: We described the first single from the new album, Dancing, as a BANGER. It’s even been getting some airplay, although it’s very definitely a Radio 2 and Heart single, if that makes sense.

Anyway, no-one’s going to manage two BANGERS in an album, are they?

Tim: Erm, excuse me.

Tom: Well, apparently not. Which is a shame, because this feels like it could have easily ended up in that territory.

Tim: What? What are you talking about, man. Sure, it’s not at Dancing levels, but this is damn good.

Tom: Okay, so my problem. First up: I can’t hear “caution, caution, amber lights” without replacing it with “engine engine number nine” off… well, the long series of samples that ended up with Fatman Scoop. My overactively-referencing brain aside, though, this track seems to sit in an awkward position.

Tim: Why? It’s in a fantastic position as far as I’m concerned – great tune, energy, voice as ever.

Tom: It’s not a slow ballad — that “yoou-oo-oou” has too much of a build into it for it to possibly be the Big Emotional Number — but it’s not a big pop track either. And it doesn’t help that, several times during it, I found myself absent-mindedly hearing ‘Dancing’ over the top of it in my head. They’re too similar for the first two singles.

Tim: Hmm, see I didn’t re-listen to Dancing, and I didn’t leap to that conclusion. In any case, this isn’t quite going for full on dance tune BANGER like Dancing was – it’s going for a big pop number, and it succeeds as far as I’m concerned.

Tom: Still, for someone whose career has run for all this time, getting one Proper Track off an album’s an achievement.

Tim: And two Proper Tracks, out of two, is a very good achievement.

Dua Lipa – IDGAF

“Radio 1 managed to put together a really good girlband.”

Tim: Dua Lipa, from the same group of musicians as Ariana Grande as ‘people who sound like typefaces’. This has been doing the rounds for a few weeks now but is still great, and you can probably guess but there’s a rude word in the chorus.

Tom: And it’s the seventh single from the album! Seventh! Do singles even mean anything more?

Tim: That’s the proper version, at least. But here’s the thing: I think the radio edit sounds better.

Tom: Interesting. Why’s that?

Tim: Well, have a listen. It’s not online as standard, but you can see what happened when Radio 1 managed to put together a really good girlband, made up of Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, Zara Larsson, MØ and Alma (who I’d never heard of but is apparently off Finnish Idol and does actually have some pretty good tracks).

Tim: Now obviously there are some slight differences in the styling with the female backing vocals, but I do prefer that chorus. Not just because it sounds less gratuitously unpleasant, and more playable in a public space, but more because of the implications: she gives so little of a that she can’t even be bothered to finish the sentence.

Tom: I disagree there — it just seems unresolved to me. I accept there’s no other easy way to do a radio edit of the song, but there’s just too much of a gap there.

Tim: I don’t mind that it doesn’t resolve, because I don’t think it harms the song at all. And the rest of the song? Shouty, brash and enjoyable. I like it.

ILY – You Give Me

“Crack open the pineapple juice and bring on the timpani.”

Tim: Still the middle of February and bloody miserable outside, but that doesn’t mean we can’t crack open the pineapple juice and bring on the timpani.

Tom: I mean, apart from the fact it’s 2018 and we should have left this behind a couple of years ago, but yeah, okay, let’s GET TROPICAL.

Tim: Here is one artist who’s done just that, with a song that’s enjoyable but intensely irritating. Let me know when you realise it.

Tim: Right then, ILY, the song is called You Give Me Life. You know that, you sing it, the words are there. So WHY, dear GOD WHY, is there so, so much of “you g’mm me”? In general, I have no issue with twisted vocal samples – they’re in fashion, and when they’re done well they sound good.

Tom: It is entirely possible to do a chopped-up vocal chorus that sounds great — Rita Ora’s Anywhere, for example, even if it leaves her a bit lost during live performances.

Tim: Except, well, Kygo was recently described on here as letting a toddler loose on the volume control, and not only does that sound like what’s happened here, but you’ve actually thought “thanks toddler, that’ll do” and then thrown it liberally around the song without realising that it sounds awful.

Tom: And it’s a strange choice to make, because it’s not as if there are multiple words being combined here. Is it someone stretching “gimme” out too much? Combining two takes? I’ve no idea.

Tim: AARGH it’s so infuriating, because the rest of it is good!

Tom: Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. It’s okay.

Tim: It’s just that one bit, used so so often, completely kills it. For me, anyway. Grrr.

October – 1000 Eyes

“While I’d agree that it’s good, I’m not sure it’s two-reallys-good.”

Tim: This here from New Zealand, and unlike yesterday I know exactly what it is I like about it.

Tim: Because heavens above, that’s a great chorus.

Tom: It is, but I’m not so sure about the song as a whole. There’s some great synth work in there, and even that long outro doesn’t seem to go on for too long, but…

Tim: Yeah, the verses: not so great. They’re dark, a bit heavy, and not really in a good way, because there’s not a huge amount going on with them. That chorus, though, is still dark and heavy but it sounds really, really good.

Tom: That’s two “reallys” there, and, while I’d agree that it’s good, I’m not sure it’s two-reallys-good. What do you like?

Tim: First, there’s obviously that massive synth line underlying it, but also a very slight higher line behind that, which with her intense vocal (particularly that “there’s. so. much. more. I. want. to. sho-. -oow.” part) combine really nicely to make a great sounding part of a song. Just part of a song, mind, so I can’t give this an unequivocal thumbs up, but still. That chorus.

Lauv – Getting Over You

“Gentle, twinkly synthpop”

Tom: Without knowing Lauv’s nationality, what would you guess?

Tim: Hmm…voice has a British sense to it, and the styling could be from here – in the right area?

Tom: A combination of the style, the voice and the name made me assume Lauv was from Norway or Sweden, but no. This is an American, whose LA-based team — as far as I can tell — are doing their best impression of the gentle, twinkly synthpop coming out of the Nordic countries.

Tim: Huh. Yeah, not a bad job – though I think the synthpop (which I flipping love, by the way) is becoming global enough now that, well, as we’ve just proved, assumptions can’t really be made confidently.

Tom: And they’re nearly there. Just one problem: this is about a minute too long. It’s a great sub-three-minute track that just doesn’t need to be extended for one more chorus and a long outro.

Tim: The chorus I don’t have a problem with – but yes, I’m fairly sure we could cut the song off nicely at 3:31 and it’d be a good’un. Otherwise, though: lovely.

Vargas & Lagola – Roads

Tim: Back with their own track after last month’s brief pairing with Avicii, and it got me on board right away.

Tom: Agreed! That’s one of the best openings to a track that I’ve heard in a while. Except…

Tim: Except…then it was a full two minutes before it really did anything remotely different, and so I started getting actually quite bored. The annoying thing is, what’s there is actually quite good – it’s a good strong verse, and hell, it’s a better chorus than a lot of the tracks we feature.

Tom: And I think that’s partly because it’s a really familiar melody — not actually taken from anywhere, but filled with a lot of easy-to-recognise progressions of notes.

Tim: But together, there’s just no real variation – a minute and a half in, I’m thinking ‘blimey, are they really stringing this out for four minutes?’ Of course, stringing becomes an entirely appropriate verb soon after, and it’s nice to have that – but then at the end of that middle eight, there’s a drop down and then quick build up to…right back where it was. And that’s just not how a song should work, guys. Summary: what’s there is great, but I just want a lot of it gone.