ESC 2017: Iceland’s Songvakeppnin 2017 Grand Final

Ah, Iceland. Things are going very well here. You’ve got a seven song final of which 5 are really rather good. Let’s reprise my preview posts and see who Listen Outside wants to go to Kyiv (it’s obviously Daði, let’s not kid ourselves)

Aron Hannes EmilssonTonight

The first of our two tropical post dancehall songs by young men called Aron. This is as poppy and current as you can imagine and doesn’t overegg the tropical pudding (should that be over-pineapple?). Aron’s official Songvakeppnin photo has him all done up in a turtleneck and jacket like Draco Malfoy going to the Christmas Ball, but I think that doesn’t seem to match with his song. Looking at his stuff on Youtube, I do not think that those are Aron’s normal clothes. Let him wear something he’s comfortable in, give him some cool looking dancers and this could be going to Kyiv. In English. [See, they followed my advice]

Arnar Jónsson & Rakel PálsdóttirAgain

And if you were waiting for the slightly dark love duet, here we go. Iceland does not disappoint us on that front. There’s a violin break, during which I would be tempted to pop Greta on stage, maybe on a hoverboard. In the studio version, both Rakel and Arnar have really lovely voices with superb control over a wide range of dynamics – it’ll be interesting to see how that comes across in the selection shows. I think it won’t win, but if it does, it’ll be because Greta is doing the violin solo on a hoverboard and the lyrics will be in English. [Sadly no Greta on a hoverboard in the semi, but there’s still time]

Aron BrinkHypnotised

The second tropical song by a chap called Aron. The songs are so similar that whichever one of them has the best delivery and stage presence ought to win. Theoretically, that would be this Aron (the slightly prettier one tbh), but the thing is: there’s a touch of Margaret’s affected patois delivery in the English version of this song, something that the other Aron manages to safely avoid. I don’t think I’m totally ok with that.

If we can have this Aron singing the other Aron’s song I could get behind that? Anyway, another strong contender regardless of what I think.

Hildur Kristin SefánsdóttirBammbaramm

I’ve had one of HILDUR’s songs in the queue to go on Listen Outside for ages. Now she’s giving Songvakeppnin a shot, and following in the time honoured Eurovision tradition of using a cunningly international, untranslatable chorus. Well played Hildur! It might be a bit too gentle to force its way into voters’ memories, but I really like it – reminds me of Lykke Li’s first album in its delicate positivity. If this wins the selection, I would go for the English version. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how they’ll stage it? I’m assuming that there’ll be dancers, but I hope that they can avoid making it either too edgy or too cutesy. [I was wrong to worry about the staging, it’s both cutesy and edgy and perfect]

Rúnar Eff RúnarssonMake your way back home

Iceland are particularly good at powerful ballads where big men display their sensitive sides. This is one of those – it builds like 2016’s Sound of Silence and has just enough of both chiming guitars and stuttering synths to please both the Michał Szpak and Sanna Nielsen camps of balladry respectively. I am not as keen on it as I am on some of the other songs, and I would say that it doesn’t really matter if it is in English or Icelandic. It’s a nice listen.

Svala BjörgvinsdóttirPaper

Don’t let this put you off, but this is basically a 21st century Pat Benatar power ballad. If you want a bracing Nordic electro blast then this is it. If you have worn out your 3rd copy of Robyn’s Body Talk then this is for you. If you want to see a grown woman covered in sick tattoos sing the heck out of an ambivalent cybernetic love song then this is your jam. If you like syncopated vocal lines and big mountains made of synths and breathy backing vocals then step this way. Huge potential goosebumps whether it is in Icelandic or English. Top five in Kyiv. (Disclaimer: I also said that about Hear Them Calling)  [I really like this, and Svala looks like she’d be fun]

Daði Freyr PéturssonIs this love?

Another song aimed straight at my heart. This is an ADORABLE song about two introverts skirting the narrow line between failure and success when flirting. Dadi looks like a super sweet long haired nerd who knows his way around a Moog – check out this video from his other project Mixophrygian. Like I say, targeted straight at my heart. I’d hope to stage this with him doing a bit of stage interaction with the backing singer who is playing the part of the girl in the song, and have them both dressed as if they are wallflowers at indie discos. Cardigans, DMs, shy looks from under their respective fringes. If it wins, send it in English, But it won’t win Songvakeppnin. We can’t have nice things like this.

I have no idea if anyone else would like this, but part of the joy of National Final season is that there’s always something for everyone. Especially, there’s always something for me from Iceland.

[Obviously I’m overjoyed that it’s gone down well enough to merit both Eurofan love and that coveted closing spot in the Grand Final. And the staging is something else. Maybe we can have nice things like this?]

Eurovision Preview: Songvakeppnin 2017

One of the first national finals that I watched when I became a serious Eurovision nerd was Songvakeppnin, largely thanks to the excellent streaming service offered by RÚV. The official Listen Outside hypothesis on Iceland is that either every single Icelander in a nation of 300,000 is in a pretty decent band, or there are are a hardcore of about 3000 of them who are in a dozen decent bands each and the rest are either novelists, football coaches or working on Lazy Town.

Anyway, we’ve got another set of hopefuls looking to bring the big glass microphone to Reykjavik. It seems beyond belief that Iceland haven’t managed to win yet – does the Class of 2017 have someone who can go one better than Yohanna and Selma?

Linda Hartmanns – Ástfangin/Obvious Love

I’m writing this preview the day after the UK selected Lucie Jones’ big sensitive ballad, and I’m sure you’re already aware how quickly I suffer from ballad fatigue. But this one is a rather beautiful and melancholy piece of balladry and thus earns a second listen, which is where the textures in the chorus production start to pop out. It would be a slightly boring but respectable selection. I would definitely keep it in magical, breathy Icelandic if it won the selection.

HILDUR – Bammbaramm/Bammbaramm

I’ve had one of HILDUR’s songs in the queue to go on Listen Outside for ages. Now she’s giving Songvakeppnin a shot, and following in the time honoured Eurovision tradition of using a cunningly international, untranslatable chorus. Well played Hildur! It might be a bit too gentle to force its way into voters’ memories, but I really like it – reminds me of Lykke Li’s first album in its delicate positivity. If this wins the selection, I would go for the English version. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how they’ll stage it? I’m assuming that there’ll be dancers, but I hope that they can avoid making it either too edgy or too cutesy.

Svala Björgvinsdottir – Eg veit pad/Paper

Don’t let this put you off, but this is basically a 21st century Pat Benatar power ballad. If you want a bracing Nordic electro blast then this is it. If you have worn out your 3rd copy of Robyn’s Body Talk then this is for you. If you want to see a grown woman covered in sick tattoos sing the heck out of an ambivalent cybernetic love song then this is your jam. If you like syncopated vocal lines and big mountains made of synths and breathy backing vocals then step this way. Huge potential goosebumps whether it is in Icelandic or English. Top five in Kyiv. (Disclaimer: I also said that about Hear Them Calling)  


Þhordis & Júlí – Heim til þín/Get Back Home

Modern country & western is becoming one of those genres that you can safely get away with at Eurovision. Of course, the best ever Eurovision country song is Texas Lightning’s No No Never, with Calm After The Storm a reasonably distant second. This is a song much more from the mould that gave us Monica & Vaidas from Lithuania singing This Time, and as such the success of this song will depend hugely on the on-stage chemistry between Þhordis & Júlí. If we ship it, they might find themselves on the way to Kyiv, and probably doing the English version too.

Dadi Freyr Petursson – Hvað með það?/Is This Love?

Another song aimed straight at my heart. This is an ADORABLE song about two introverts skirting the narrow line between failure and success when flirting. Dadi looks like a super sweet long haired nerd who knows his way around a Moog – check out this video from his other project Mixophrygian. Like I say, targeted straight at my heart. I’d hope to stage this with him doing a bit of stage interaction with the backing singer who is playing the part of the girl in the song, and have them both dressed as if they are wallflowers at indie discos. Cardigans, DMs, shy looks from under their respective fringes. If it wins, send it in English, But it won’t win Songvakeppnin. We can’t have nice things like this.

I have no idea if anyone else would like this, but part of the joy of National Final season is that there’s always something for everyone. Especially, there’s always something for me from Iceland.

Runar Eff – Mér við hlið/Make Your Way Back Home

Iceland are particularly good at powerful ballads where big men display their sensitive sides. This is one of those – it builds like 2016’s Sound of Silence and has just enough of both chiming guitars and stuttering synths to please both the Michał Szpak and Sanna Nielsen camps of balladry respectively. I am not as keen on it as I am on some of the other songs, and I would say that it doesn’t really matter if it is in English or Icelandic. It’s a nice listen.

Aron Hannes – Nótt/Tonight

The first of our two tropical post dancehall songs by young men called Aron. This is as poppy and current as you can imagine and doesn’t overegg the tropical pudding (should that be over-pineapple?). Aron’s official Songvakeppnin photo has him all done up in a turtleneck and jacket like Draco Malfoy going to the Christmas Ball, but I think that doesn’t seem to match with his song. Looking at his stuff on Youtube, I do not think that those are Aron’s normal clothes. Let him wear something he’s comfortable in, give him some cool looking dancers and this could be going to Kyiv. In English.

Erna Mist Pétúrsdottir – Skuggamynd/I’ll Be Gone

Another perennial of an Icelandic national selection is a delicate wee ballad sung by a delicate lass with a mighty vocal range. Here is your one of those for this year. Sadly the song doesn’t really go anywhere and I can’t find anything to recommend it over my favourites. In her interview for the Songvakeppnin website Erna admits to defrauding her local swimming baths by pretending to be under 18. I am not saying this is a reason not to vote for her, but I think it’s important that those who use municipal facilities play fair. No strong preference between Icelandic or English versions.

Rakel & Arnar – Til Min/Again

And if you were waiting for the slightly dark love duet, here we go. Iceland does not disappoint us on that front. There’s a violin break, during which I would be tempted to pop Greta on stage, maybe on a hoverboard. In the studio version, both Rakel and Arnar have really lovely voices with superb control over a wide range of dynamics – it’ll be interesting to see how that comes across in the selection shows. I think it won’t win, but if it does, it’ll be because Greta is doing the violin solo on a hoverboard and the lyrics will be in English.

Sólveig Ásgeirsdóttir – Treystu a mig/Trust In Me

There’s something really wholesome and analogue about this. The studio version sounds really warm and joyful. There’s a great deal of charisma about it in a way that I can’t explain. It’s a bit like the general vibe of Sjonni’s Friends – traditional but inclusive. The generally lovely atmosphere even comes across equally well in English as it does in Icelandic. Maybe not the strongest and most innovative song in the selection, but I think it’s got incredibly broad appeal. Might be a contender.

Aron Brink – Þú hefur dáleitt mig/Hypnotised

The second tropical song by a chap called Aron – I really hope that they are not in the same semi-final, because that would be a bit tough. The songs are so similar that whichever one of them has the best delivery and stage presence ought to win. Theoretically, that would be this Aron (the slightly prettier one tbh), but the thing is: there’s a touch of Margaret’s affected patois delivery in the English version of this song, something that the other Aron manages to safely avoid. I don’t think I’m totally ok with that.

If we can have this Aron singing the other Aron’s song I could get behind that? Anyway, another strong contender regardless of what I think.

Páll & Kristina – Þú og ég/You and I

Now when I said that modern country and western was now a viable Eurovision genre, I meant that with emphasis on the modern part. This is an extremely traditional Nashville boy/girl duet, complete with American accents. I cannot say that I am super keen on it.

Well, that’s your lot for Iceland 2017. I might reformat this when the semi-final allocations come out, but I think that my picks are obviously Paper and Is This Love? However, the people of Iceland have a history of surprising me and any of about 8 of the 12 songs has a reasonable chance of getting the win. Just not Þú og ég please.

See the rest of our Eurovision 2017 coverage here.

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Game on: Iceland vs France

This one is MASSIVE. What a game. I mean, Iceland could do anything at this stage. Áfraaaaam!

For Iceland we have some distinctly hairy good time party rock from Churchhouse Creepers. It’s called Party, it depicts a party and evokes a party. It is party.

For France we have some more distinctly hairy good time party rock, which I think is probably mocking the aesthetics of the American rock group from a French point of view, but maybe not. Anyway, it’s fun!

Which country is more mighty in the field of music? Iceland or France?

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Party – Churchhouse Creepers [Fun time rock and roll]

Goin’ Down South – Dirty Deep [More fun time rock and roll]

 

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Game on: England vs Iceland

Tonight, it’s Iceland, who’ve warmed everyone’s hearts and made loads of friends during this tournament against England who, um, haven’t. Both of these nations have traditions of epic poetry, incredible word play and partying as if the world was ending and that’s what we’re reflecting in tonight’s song choices.

For England, we have eleven minutes of intense bleakness from Richard Dawson. This song, The Vile Stuff, is the sound of Northern working class lives spinning out of control against a background of alcohol and violence.

For Iceland, we have an incredible party anthem from Stykur about going out in Reykjavik. The wordplay and sounds of the Icelandic rapping is just amazing. When she goes into the double speed section in the second verse, my head reels.

Whose song did you like more? England's or Iceland's?

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The Vile Stuff- Richard Dawson [Intense bardic nihilism]

Reykjavik – Stykur [Massive bouncing party tune with incredible wordplay]

 

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Game on: Iceland vs Hungary

The Icelanders are casually telling us that Hekla is stirring. It’s the geological equivalent of saying “It’d be a shame if you angered the gods of the earth by not facilitating the progress of Icelandic football” and I hope that the Austrians are listening. I don’t fancy a reprise of the Eyjafjallajökull affair.

So we have some heavy stuff indeed from Iceland in the shape of the most recent single from Great Grief and some very not heavy stuff from Austria from a band called VIECH, who’ve done nothing wrong.

Which was better? Iceland or Austria?

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Knives – Great Grief [Very noisy and abrasive metal that starts out all hardcore-esque, tours a dozen metal sub-genres and is almost short enough to enter into Eurovision]

Zentrale – VIECH [Extremely jaunty pop rock stuff with brass enhancement from some chirpy and clean cut Austrians]

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Game on: Iceland vs Hungary

Iceland’s bold men with their chiselled good looks and incredible stamina take on the Hungarians. I’m afraid I can’t be impartial here. Áfram Ísland!

Vök are serious looking bunch of coves, and their music is equally serious. It’s got a sort of pleasant melancholy and on the song Waiting in particular, it sort of sounds like the Icelandic landscape looks. Gorgeous.

ÍV took one of her English language songs to the final of A Dal in 2015, but this song Mindig Varsz is a slightly more grown up and sober production. It’s got a slight modern Eurovision feel to it, and it’s super listenable.

Whose beautiful song is more beautiful? Vök or IV?

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Waiting – Vök [Weightlessly perfect Nordic noir electro ballad]

Mindig vársz – ÍV [Breathy, warm mellow electro]

 

 

 

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Game on: Portugal vs Iceland

A bit of delightfully relaxing stuff this evening, after the full-on nature of Austria vs Hungary. In a first for Listen Outside, I’ve got a rather nice song from Portuguese band ÁTOA which is very chill, very different to what you’d expect from a Portuguese boy band. I’ve also got a lovely bit of acoustic pop from Icelandic band Ylja, which has gorgeous harmonies and can be recommended to those who like The Staves and First Aid Kit.

Which song was better? ÁTOA or Ylja?

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Distancia – ÁTOA [Very relaxed guitar pop from what I believe to be a boy band]

Út – Ylja [Beautiful harmonies and a bit of cosy/chilly Icelandic gloom]

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Count to Ten – Mew

Mew have been around for ages now, their blend of doomy indie songs and whimsical sometimes creepy artwork have kept a core group of fans sustained throughout changes to the line up (and back again.) This song was written and recorded for a tribute sampler for the Transformers called ‘Transformers Roll Out’ that was released in April this year – yes, I just wrote that no, I haven’t made it up.

There is a recognisable signature to a Mew song, which other artists have rarely imitated. It’s a signature that hasn’t dated. Count to Ten is recognisably a Mew track and not as challenging as some of the tracks on ‘and the Glass Handed Kites’ which was the last album I picked up by them back in 2005 and could be a difficult listen for indie rock. The piano sounds great and references back to their earliest albums. They released a new album last year ‘+ -’ charted at 59 in the UK and topped the chart in Denmark. Count to Ten is good enough to be an album track so it’s looking good for any new music they record this year!

Mew have a website