Lisa McHugh – You’re Gonna Get Back Up

“This is a perfect example of what I say every time: it’s basically schlager with different instruments.”

Tom: Irish singer raised in Scotland, singing a mostly-American music genre, pop-country. And it sounds…

Tom: Tell me you didn’t perk up a bit at that chorus.

Tim: I’m afraid I can’t do that, because I did indeed perk up a bit at that chorus.

Tom: I’d like to officially declare “pop-country” within our remit, Tim. I used to issue a disclaimer every time I sent you at track like this, but now? This is a perfect example of what I say every time: it’s basically schlager with different instruments. Everything here: the song structure, the three-minute length, the switch to the harmony line in the last chorus.

Tim: I can’t even slightly disagree with any of what you’ve just said: I would put this out there as a really good Corrs track, with hints of Shania, and that’s all good by me.

Tom: I don’t think it’s going to light up the charts or anything, but it’s nice enough.

Kygo & OneRepublic – Lose Somebody

“It’s not exactly pineapples, coconuts and xylophones.”

Tim: Kygo’s got a new album coming out next Friday, and I’m interested to see what it’ll be like – so far, some of the tracks from it have been very very Kygo (Higher Love, Freedom), but some of them aren’t very Kygo-ish at all. Take this, for example.

Tim: You see? It’s a decent enough track, there’s no doubting that, and the high pitched bits in the background take it away from being a typical OneRepublic track – but it’s not exactly pineapples, coconuts and xylophones.

Tom: I mostly found that a bit confusing. That first chorus sounds like a pre-chorus, like it’s building to something — and given the name Kygo, I think we both know what it’d be building to. Yes, that does eventually sort-of resolve for the middle eight and on from there, but it’s in this odd in-between space.

Tim: Yeah, you’re not wrong there – sounds almost like there was once a big post-chorus that got binned off. 

Tom: This feels more like someone decided to slightly remix a mediocre OneRepublic track. It’s not anthemic enough, nor is it dance enough: it’s in a weird space in between the two.

Tim: It’s also interesting comparing it to their previous collaboration (though that was technically a feat.), which had a pure Kygo chorus. Here, there’s very little at all, outside the brief middle eight. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind – it’s a good track, and a perfectly good listen if it came on the radio – but given the equal billing, I wouldn’t say no to a bit more Kygo.

Hurts – Voices

“I suspect that’s going to be a grower.”

Tom: They’re back!

Tim: Indeed! A load of good stuff came out on Friday; highlights include a decent new Katy Perry track, a new album off KEiiNO (mostly tracks we’ve already heard, but a couple of good new ones), an Alan Walker redo of a Hans Zimmer piece, and this:

Tom: Huh. I suspect that’s going to be a grower. 

Tim: I’m hoping so, yeah – it’s their first new music since 2017’s album Desire, and the problem with Hurts tracks is that they’ve got a lot to live up to. Their first album was packed with so many brilliant tracks like Better Than Love, Wonderful Life, Sunday and Stay, each album since has been topped with great tracks, and they even managed to bring out a Christmas song that you liked.

Tom: It is a genuinely good, emotional, sad Christmas song and I stand by it.

Tim: As well you should. But as for this one… well, there’s nothing I’d really want to change about it, as it’s very definitely a Hurts track, but I can’t help hoping there’s better stuff on whatever album they presumably have coming out soon, as this doesn’t quite do it for me.

Tom: I do like it, for once — it’s not the sort of immediate sit-up-and-pay-attention track that I normally go for, but the whole thing sits pleasantly in the background. Why’s it not work for you?

Tim: Annoyingly I’m not quite sure, so can’t really put it in to words – maybe it’s that it’s leaning too far into heavy beats, with both drums and synthy bass notes, than strong melodies – but whatever it is, it’s definitely missing something.

Tom: Either this is something that I’m going to appreciate more over time — or that repetitive guitar melody that’s underneath most of the track is going to grate and grate more. We’ll see which it is.

Grace Davies – Amsterdam

“It’s a clunky metaphor, sure, and it falls down completely in the second verse.”

Tom: Grace Davies: 2017 X Factor runner-up, great voice. Advance warning: this is a lovely, slow, builder of a ballad, utterly ruined by one single clunker of a lyric.

Tom: Which is a shame, because everything else on this is brilliant. You could argue it’s a bit by-the-numbers: all the orchestral bits hit exactly when you’d expect them to, and then it’s back down and quiet for the final chorus.

Tim: As you’ve described, a perfect builder. And I’m guessing I know the line you mean – though I’ve got no problem with it. It’s a clunky metaphor, sure, and it falls down completely in the second verse when it sounds like Amsterdam is another girl rather than a city where he’s done all so many bad things, but the line itself I think is quite nice.

Tom: But her voice is just lovely, the production is excellent, even the rest of the lyrics are good. It’s just that one line: I cannot imagine how anyone thought “damn you Amsterdam” fits anywhere outside of a children’s rhyme or… maybe some novelty apres-ski party song?

Tim: It’s a METAPHOR, darn it, a METAPHOR.

Galantis & Wrabel – The Lake

“Orchestral Galantis sounds like a wonderful idea.”

Tim: No lockdown in Sweden, so Galantis have got themselves a 15-piece orchestra for this one – apparently they’ve got other music ready to go, but this one felt right for the time.

Tom: Huh. Orchestral Galantis sounds like a wonderful idea.

Tim: “I wanted to release something different. Some people said: ‘Everyone wants to be happy,’ but I thought: ‘I need to feel it. I don’t want a big drop right now,'” said Christian, to Popjustice last week.

Tom: I mean, it’s uncomfortably reminiscent of Clean Bandit — that is not a compliment, I am not a Clean Bandit fan — but it’s interesting to see that “sudden appearance of an orchestra” still sorta-qualifies as a drop.

Tim: And yeah, I like that, because to be honest I don’t want a big drop right now either – to get briefly personal, the one time I’ve felt properly down during this whole thing was when guys from work wanted suggestions for a workout playlist and I listened to a load of dance music to find stuff, and it turns out I really do miss going out to bars and clubs and having fun. The titular lake is allegedly a metaphor for that – it’s for whatever we’re looking forward to, getting out, hanging out, doing whatever, though that kind of brings the question: with these lyrics, is the timing really right for this? Shouldn’t it maybe have been held back until there is a house on the lake? I don’t know, maybe it’s just there as a dream, as something to look forward to, to feel wistful about. I’ll take the music, though. The music’s nice.

Tom: It is! I don’t think the birdsong works in there — it’s just a bit too twee. But then, I tend to disparage basically any sound effect in a song, so perhaps I’m just too easily distracted. As a nice, calm Galantis track: yes, I’m glad to see that combining dance music with an orchestra still works.

Tim: It does. And incidentally, if you’re in the market for a Galantis face mask, one can be yours for just £15 plus £2.90 shipping to the UK, which actually works out a bargain compared to Alan Walker – his are a bit cheaper, but he’ll charge you over a tenner for shipping. Disgraceful.

Tiësto & Becky Hill – Nothing Really Matters

“Now I think about it, I’m not really sure what the purpose of music videos in general is.”

Tom: We were talking about lockdown music videos yesterday, and, uh, well, I bet this video seemed like a much better idea a few months ago.

Tom: Expensive, time-consuming lyric videos do seem to be the norm now — which kind of defeats the original purpose of them, really — but at least they’re not, I don’t know, spinning some unfortunate mythos about a virus destroying humanity. Has Alan Walker done that yet? I’ve forgotten how all his mythos works.

Tim: Well, his most recent one was from a meteor strike; before that we had a solar flare, I think? And maybe it’s just that lyric videos are taking over from regular videos entirely. Now I think about it, I’m not really sure what the purpose of music videos in general is, though if they’re there to give us something to watch and pay attention to the music, lyric videos are arguably batter than Alan’s world-ending cults.

Tom: As for the music, well, it’s generic Tiësto, isn’t it?

Tim: See, you say it’s generic Tiësto, and sure, it is, but it also comes across to me as just generic dance. I don’t know if it’s because Tiësto doesn’t have a unique sound, but to me this just sounds like a Becky Hill track. Not a bad thing – but a bit less than what I’d expect from a name as big as Tiësto.

Tom: I think it’s notable that, for both today and yesterday, we’re talking a lot more about the video than the music. Is that because we’ve picked dull tracks, or is it because there’s just less interesting stuff coming out? And I wonder how much production on new pop has been paused, and how much is continuing in home studios?

Tim: I was wondering that the other day, and to be honest I’d imagine it’s much less affected than film and TV – writing tracks can just about be done over video chat, and while it’d be hard for proper instruments to be recorded at home, vocals shouldn’t present too much of a problem, that can then be sent to be cleaned up by a producer and then placed on top of fake drums and guitars, or just your standard synth beats. If you want a good example of what can be done, I recommend Radio 1’s Stay Home Live Lounge from yesterday, all recorded at artists’ homes and sounding amazing.

Sam Smith, Demi Lovato – I’m Ready

“Why does it feel like it’s odd?”

Tom: Well, I guess we should talk about this. Two artists with very different styles. Well, very different styles for modern pop music, at least.

Tom: I was originally going to say “that’s strange”, but then I realised I couldn’t back the statement up. While my gut reaction was that it seemed like it had a weird song structure, or weird duet structure, it just doesn’t. Sam’s verse and chorus; Demi’s verse and chorus with a bit from Sam; middle eight; big joint abbreviated final verse-and-chorus with a gospel choir. It’s a by-the-numbers traditional pop duet structure. So why does it feel like it’s odd?

Tim: Best guess: the genre shift. Sam’s is standard nice pop, largely unobjectionable, but when Demi comes along for her verse the backing changes significantly: it becomes a lot harsher, and even the underlying beat almost drops into two-step, giving an impression of a middle eight coming significantly earlier than in should do. The chorus comes along sounding nice, then we get an actual middle eight that’s itself chopped in two – part of it lovely and part of it harsh, and then we go into a full melodic and lovely closing chorus.

Tom: At least they actually shot the music video together, though.

Kelly Clarkson – I Dare You

“Hang around on the playlists for a month or so and then fade into the background, to be revisited every now and then.”

Tom: I have never heard a more obvious “chuck a millennial whoop in the background” than this track.

Tom: It doesn’t help that those few notes sounds like it’s sampled from Katy Perry’s California Girls, really — it’s pretty the only thing I could remember about this after one listen.

Tim: Ah, see I went for Owl City and Carley Rae Jepsen with the chorus, but, yeah, guess it shows how dam ubiquitous that’s become.

Tom: There’s some lovely vocal work in here, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with the song. (Of course there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s a Kelly Clarkson track, she’s enough of a star she’s only going to released polished stuff.)

Tim: It is, and I mean this in no bad way whatsoever, a typical Kelly Clarkson track.

Tom: Maybe it’s cynically designed for radio airplay: this is the sort of track that will do very well on several genres of hit-radio stations in the US, particularly given the message right now.

Tim: Yep – hang around on the playlists for a month or so and then fade into the background, to be revisited every now and then.

Tom: But I can’t see this being an all-time classic.

Kiesza – Crave

“EXCITEMENT. Very important in a lyric video, that.”

Tom: I get grumpy at videos that start with photosensitive epilepsy warnings. They knew it was a problem — why didn’t they design the video to be safe from the start instead of just throwing a warning on and calling it a day?

Tim: Because EXCITEMENT. Very important in a lyric video, that.

Tom: Anyway, Kiesza is Canadian, has been going since the mid-oughts, and she’s back after two years off to recover from a car crash. And notably, this track has the same producers as Little Mix had for “Black Magic” and “Shout Out To My Ex”. Which means it should sound…

Tom: …like it came straight out of the 80s?

Tim: Hmm, yes, but also quite Shout Out To My Ex-y, there are recognisable similarities.

Tom: It’s good, don’t get me wrong! The production’s spot on, the vocals are great, the composition is… well, it’s okay, I guess, it’d maybe just scrape being a B-side for Carly Rae Jepsen. That came across as too harsh, but you know what I mean.

Tim: Yeah, I do – it’s no instant classic, though I think Jepsen B-side is way too mean – I can see this getting picked up for radio play. I’d say it’s okay.

Charli XCX – Forever

“An experimental track doesn’t necessarily make a pleasant listen, though.”

Tom: Starting a track with distorted feedback is a brave choice in a world where people skip very, very quickly.

Tim: My first thought, immediate when I pressed play, was “oof, blimey”; that changed briefly to “oh, hmm” before going right back to blimey when that autotune kicked in properly. You’re not wrong.

Tom: In fact, I’d classify nearly all the synth pads in here as brave, particularly in the verse: the percussion that’s just a noise sample, the bass that sounds like it came from a really cheap 80s synthesiser. And the glitch samples on final chorus is… I mean, all I can think of is ‘brutal’.

Tim: Yeah – much as I’ve been a fan of Charli XCX previously, I’m struggling to find anything I like about this. The melody in the middle eight, perhaps?

Tom: But — and this is really strange for me to say — I don’t find it unpleasant at all.

Tim: Huh, okay.

Tom: It’s not like the producers are just dipping their toe into the water and giving one thing that could grate. The whole track is experimental enough (by pop music standards, at least) that I… I think I see what they were going for?

Tim: I guess, yeah, and I can agree with that – an experimental track doesn’t necessarily make a pleasant listen, though.

Tom: And if all else fails, there’s still a conventional pop vocal in there to hold on to as a lifebuoy.

Tim: Autotuned to hell and back.

Tom: It’s not going on my playlist any time soon, but I think I can see what they were going for. And I think I like it.

Tim: Nope, sorry – I’m out.