Emma Steinbakken – Not Gonna Cry

“It’s Big Heavy Instrumentation and a really, really good voice.”

Tim: She’s Norwegian, she’s 15 years old, and– actually, here’s something I’ve never thought to ask before: how do young kids like this end up making music? Do they wander up to a record label’s A&R office and start warbling, or do talent scouts go to school performances and stuff, or what? Because both of those seem really quite weird and/or creepy.

Tom: These days, YouTube, I guess? Other than that, probably pushy parents.

Tim: Hmm, maybe. Anyway, here’s Emma, with some upsettingly rude language coming from someone so young.

Tom: You’re right that this sounds like a song that’s too old for a 15-year-old. But leaving that aside: I like that, for the same reasons that I liked Astrid S’s Emotion a few weeks back. It’s Big Heavy Instrumentation and a really, really good voice. Whatever this genre’s called, it works for me.

Tim: So here’s the thing: I get this song. I appreciate, and I understand what’s good about it – it’s intense in the heavy parts and it’s vulnerable in the quiet parts, the vocals are on point and, as you say, the Big Heavy Instrumentation all works well. But…I don’t really like it. Bits of it I like, and there’s a lot I’m impressed by. There’s just, no compulsion to hit that replay button.

Tom: And there’s the problem. Because as ever, my tests for pop music are: can I hum the chorus after one listen? Do I want to replay it? For this song, it’s a no to both — which is a shame because while it was playing, I thought it was great.

Tim: Shame, really, as I’d like to like it. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Saturday Flashback: Helene Fischer – Atemlos durch die Nacht

“Anyone who describes it as even slightly awful really needs to go and get their ears cleaned out.”

Tim: It emerged this week that Helene Fischer is, in cash terms, the eighth most successful female artist in the world, and so quite naturally someone in the Guardian wrote about her, and schlager in general, and described the music as ‘frankly awful’. Fortunately, we’re here to say: bollocks to that.

Tom: That is… okay, it’s not ‘frankly awful’, but I’m not going to rate it above ‘okay’. Is that a new one?

Tim: That’s Helene’s most successful song, from 2013, and anyone who describes it as even slightly awful really needs to go and get their ears cleaned out. The title translates as Breathless Through The Night, and it’s about having the most amazing night out with someone, staying right up through till sunrise, being inseparable and immortal and just having one hell of a good time.

Tom: I’ll grant you that, by the last chorus, I was on board with it (well done to whoever added that whoop at 2:24). It’s good! It’s above average, even! But I’m baffled as to why it’s the most popular song of the eighth-most-moneyed female artist.

Tim: And if this was playing on my night out? I would be absolutely right there with Helene. Let’s be honest, anyone who doesn’t appreciate that deserves to be pitied more than anything else. Because it’s FABULOUS.

Benjamin – Juon sut pois

“He’s not taking his breakup very well. At all.”

Tim: Benjamin is…well, let’s just say he’s not taking his breakup very well. At all. (Video gets a bit disturbing at the end, you can stop it once the music’s finished.)

Tom: All that effort, all that long take, all that ruining his hair, and someone leaves “.mp4” in the video when they upload it. I mean, yes, that’s clearly a big emotional cathartic moment, but “.mp4”? Really? Anyway, yeah, the song. Big emotions, I guess?

Tim: He’s screwed up, he’s saying he’s sorry, but she ain’t having any of it, so naturally he’s wraping himself up in cling film and getting rid of his lovely hair, because what else is there to do? For all the unnecessary drama of the video, though, this is actually a track I can get on board with. Even without that video, the chorus still has a lot of emotional baggage with it, which depending on my mood may well get me shouting out and singing along.

Tom: It’s a good chorus, you’re right! Although I’m not sure how you’re singing along.

Tim: It is a bit tricky with it being in Finnish, I’ll grant you, but I’ll go with poison and pretty much get the same idea. Hefty music, hefty vocals, hefty song. I like it.

Andreas Wijk – NuMb ❄︎

“I’m really happy for you! Guess what!”

Tom: Our first emoji in a title! I wondered how long it’d be.

Tim: Yeah – I don’t know why there’s a snowflake in the title of this song, not do I know why it’s not on the artwork but is on everything else to do with the song. Probably for the same reason the M is capitalised; again, though, no idea. Shall we have a listen anyway?

Tom: I bet it’s less exciting than the emoji in the title.

Tim: Now, I don’t know exactly how to describe the type of chorus that this is that I quite like – the male vocal that’s partly shouty but still with enough non-shoutiness to convey proper emotion. It’s on display here, and also, taking one example that springs to mind, Oscar Zia’s Human from a couple of years back. Perhaps an acquired taste, but when it’s done properly it just seems to do it for me.

Tom: I’m really happy for you! Guess what!

Tim: It doesn’t do it for you?

Tom: It doesn’t do anything for me, and I’m wondering if my ears are burnt out or something. So many pop tracks, so few that actually make me sit up and listen.

Tim: That’s a shame, because here I’m happy to say that it is done properly, and it does do it for me – and that that pretty much infects the rest of the song, providing an enjoyable voice and an overall decent song. Still don’t get the snowflake, mind, but I’ll let it pass.

Hanne Leland – Underdogs


Tim: Our reader Bjørnar sends this in for our consideration, Hanne’s latest, with a nice inspiring message for all the sad losers out there. According to Hanne it started out life as a piano ballad, which is a version I’d be interested in hearing because the final version…really isn’t.

Tom: Yeah, those synths in the intro are about as far from piano ballad as you can get.

Tim: So, first listen, I didn’t really get into it until a minute twenty, the first time the chorus kicked in properly – before then, it was too calm, there was nothing to really get my teeth into. Then the backing vocals came in, though, it got a nice hook going on, and then that lovely “oh this will unite us” post-chorus comes along.

Tom: That is definitely the highlight of the track.

Tim: The whole thing becomes absolutely fabulous, to the extent that I can throw off the slight amount of negativity I instinctively felt with the twee “we’re all special, yeah, even you guys” message (though apparently the lyrics are “really close to my heart”, so let’s not be too dismissive). Second around and beyond – that first chorus brings back that hook, and it’s great. LOSERS UNITE!

Tom: AT LEAST FOR THE POST-CHORUS because the rest isn’t that much to write home about and “we’re the underdogs” gets a bit tedious a bit quickly sorry

MØ – Blur

“Yesterday pan pipes; today, what sound disturbingly like bagpipes.”

Tim: Yesterday pan pipes; today, what sound disturbingly like bagpipes.

Tom: That is a bagpipe sample, isn’t it? Or something very close. That’s brave, but not as brave as pan pipes. Side note: if you’re doing a lyric video, you don’t need an actual video. That’s… not the point.

Tim: Apparently it’s about “feeling creatively and artistically lost in the city of all great opportunities, Los Angeles”, which I don’t really get at all but never mind because the song’s a bit of alright really. A tad harsh sounding, perhaps, in every aspect – with the vocal with all the processing on it and instruments like that post-chorus, I’m not sure there’s anything we could describe as gentle here – but I think it comes together well.

Tom: Again: I’m just not sold on the chorus. The instrumentation doesn’t work for me, the melody just sounds unpleasant to my ears. Unfortunately, there’s not even a solid verse to rescue it. Nope: this isn’t for me, but I guess you’re a bit more enthusiastic.

Tim: Probably won’t become a regular listen, mind, but it sounds good right now.

Hot Shade feat. Nomi Bontegard – Creatures

“Apparent pan pipe enthusiast”

Tim: Hot Shade, American producer and apparent pan pipe enthusiast. Nomi Bontegard, a Swedish singer whose instrumental preferences are currently unknown.

Tom: All the way through the intro and first verse, I was thinking: this is good, I hope the chorus lives up to it. And then. And then.

Tim: It took me a while to work out exactly what it was about that I really liked, and then it hit me: it’s Alan Walker.

Tom: I… huh? How? I’m not sure Alan Walker ever sounded like he came from South America.

Tim: Those staccato notes underneath the early parts of her verses are straight out of his playbook, and in the second part of them when everything steps up a notch, I’m wondering how it took me so long to realise.

Tom: That’s fair, and that’s probably why I like the verses so much. It’s a good style to take inspiration from.

Tim: As with all of his songs, I think this is great – the pan pipes are a bit weird, but I think that’s only because no-one’s ever thought to use them before…but they seem to just work. Work nicely, in fact.

Tom: I cannot overstate how wrong you are.

Saturday Flashback: Måns Zelmerlöw – Hope & Glory

Tim: Item two in the current collection of “oh, I forgot all about this one”: Måns’s entry for Melodifestivalen 2009. Topped the final with the juries but only came fifth with the voters, leaving to a final fourth place.

Tom: Okay, just take a moment here, because I want to talk about a technical thing that speaks of the professionalism of both Måns and the production crew. The second shot: the one that cuts straight to his finger. It looks really simple, but that’s a perfectly framed and focused shot. That means Måns had to hit his mark exactly, raised his finger to the planned position exactly, and then the camera op had to make any final adjustments in under a second so the director could cut to it.

That one shot sums up Melodifestivalen’s tech for me: they didn’t need to do that, barely anyone will have cared about it, but artistically they wanted to so they made it happen.

Tim: Yeah – and that is, genuinely, one of my favourite things about Melodifestivalen, and frequently Eurovision as well – the creativity and expertise with the camerawork, like the other example we had last month, with dancers coming out of nowhere. It’s something you rarely get anywhere else, yet it’s such an art form.

ANYWAY. The song.

Now I don’t want to say it was the outfit that killed it, but I will say that while I think the song’s fantastic, and the backing graphics are good as well, there’s no way I’d pick up the phone for someone wearing that jacket/shirt/bow tie combination. Too harsh? I don’t know, but like I said, I do think that song’s brilliant.

Tom: Really? It almost sounds off-key during the verses. I don’t think that’s accidental, because Måns has proved that he can reliably hit live notes; I think that’s down to the composition. I’ll grant you that’s a decent chorus and a fantastic middle eight, though.

Tim: Right – and indeed that part right after the middle eight, though it’s funny: it uses almost the exact same trick that Cara Mia did two years previously of going slightly euphoric, albeit a tad less enthusiastically. It works well here just as well, but it could be argued that maybe it got some people being less impressed? I don’t know – almost a decade on it’s hard to know anything, except simply that this is a damn good track.

Berislav – I Gave My Life

Tim: “Duran Duran meets Game of Thrones” says the subject line of the PR email for this Croatian guy’s track, and apparently, this song’s “the first part of a trilogy, the beginning of a dramatic journey, the clash between life and death.” Standard overblown guff, you might think, once you throw in the “utterly unique” and “tour de force”, and, well, have a listen.

Tim: It reminds me of the brief trend in the mid-noughties for sticking dance music on top of orchestral backing, largely because that’s exactly what this is, and I like that. The voice works on top of it, and the Duran Duran vibes are…yeah, I’ll give them that. For what it wants to be doing as a song, it’s fairly good. I do wonder if they’re overhyping the whole project a bit, though, as for all they’re bigging up the video, it’s no more overblown or arty than we’ve seen in previous ones. Hell, compared to Alan Walker’s trilogy opener it’s really rather tame.

Still, listenable track, though.

DAVID44 – Truth

“Nope. Sorry.”

Tim: Another capitalised Scandinavian, and this time we’ve got some numbers thrown in as well for good measure. This is a song I’ve been back and forth about featuring for a week or so now, largely because I’m fairly sure you probably won’t like it. Here it is anyway, though.

Tom: You’re right! Well, not quite. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that I find it difficult to have any strong opinion about chilled house like this.

Tim: Right, because it does slot in nicely to the chilled house genre that we’ve debated before, and while I’m not expecting to make you a convert any time soon, I do still want to share it. I’m prepared for a “don’t be ridiculous” here, but it’s not so far removed from the recent Calvin Harris/Sam Smith track Promises – vulnerable male vocal over an understated backing – and for me it works. Any chance for you?

Tom: Nope. Sorry. It’s… well, it’s music.