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White Cars – Powernerd ft Ankathie Koi & Johann Martinus Bass

This song popped up while I was researching retro electropop diva (and Austria’s hottest ever mullet wearer) Ankathie Koi for the ‘Air’ show for Listen Outside On The Radio. I’m already very fond of Johann Sebastian Bass and I am a sucker for any form of homemade mirrorball costume, so this whole package had a huge raw appeal.

White Cars is a pure distillation of the aspirationally naff 80’s aesthetic, with the deliberately clunky video, the awkward extras and the beautiful deployment of a keytar vocoder. How fabulous!

If you like the more danceable end of Goldfrapp, or you were into Steed Lord, or you liked the Human League first time round, please get right into the work of Ankathie Koi. She’s a delight.

Here’s her Bandcamp.

 

 

Stay Awake EP – Bandmaster

Momentarily decloaking, I give you something that might take a couple of listens but will be very, very rewarding and actively make you cooler. Latvia’s Bandmaster are very much on the rise in 2017, doing Eurosonic Noorderslag at the start of the year and covering themselves with Baltic festival circuit glory.

Here’s the EP. For me the absolute standout tracks are Just Paddle (an excellent, spacey duet with EZERI) and Paper, Rock and Scissors which sounds like two songs playing simultaneously in the absolute best way possible. She Will starts off as a 90’s dancefloor banger and then gleefully wrongfoots you just when you’re expecting the drop. Hiding finishes the EP off with all sorts of difficult noises, squelchy noises and a synth solo line that begs to be played on keytar.

I like this, it’s good. You can definitely dance to it, but it’s like a 4/5 difficulty rating.

Bandmaster are on Soundcloud 

Bandmaster are on Facebook

Bandmaster also have this excellent music video.

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Flicker – Lxandra

Eurovision fans will have been listening to a lot of slightly melancholic modern pop not-ballads recently. Here’s another particularly fine example from Lxandra of Finland & Germany. I think there’s quite a lot here for fans of City Lights to enjoy. I particularly enjoy the huge echoing clock tick sound which has replaced the kickdrum, the vast mechanical breakdown and the refrain ‘Time, the killer’.

Lxandra is on Soundcloud

Lxandra is on Facebook

 

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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Recursive Finnish Memes: UMK 2017 Preview

In their national selections, Finland can usually be counted on to give us all three of the major Eurovision food groups: good, weird and good-weird. After the wonderfully sweet Sandjha didn’t qualify for the final in 2016 (I reckon going on first in Semi 1 made the performance feel a bit too aggressive?) there is a sense that this time round things have got to change.

So it’s a bit weird that even though they’ve shaken up the selection show format, things appear to have taken a step backwards. Let’s get to the individual songs, shall we?

Blackbird – Norma John

It’s slow and stately, but lacks an emotional punch. There should be something stirring in there before 2:28. Made me want to listen to Mørland & Debrah Scarlett from 2015, because at least there was some textural variation in that Nordic death ballad.

Perfect Villain – Zühlke

Apart from the obvious problems of including verboten references to the X-Men and the super clunky rhymes in the verse (even by Eurovision standards) there’s the problem that it lacks measurable oomph. There’s a chance that Zühlke’s charisma can sell it on the stage, but I don’t see it as a winner? Also, it’s a transparent attempt to provide something for Doctor/Missy shippers and hero/villain shippers of all fandoms to edit a bunch of clips of unresolved sexual tension together to.

Helppo elämä – Lauri Yrjölä

A Frankenstein’s monster of a track, made of the verses from Sweden’s very winning Heroes from 2015 sewn unceremoniously to the breakdown from Latvia’s 2016 hipster Eurovision classic by doe-eyed beauty Justs.  Maybe I’m being mean. But the narrowing of the sonic pallette in modern chart music means that you can quite often pick out the exact synth setting or production trick used in a track because you’ve got access to the same software and tools.

Anyway, for all that I’ve said I rather like this.

Caveman – Knucklebone Oscar & The Shangri-La Rubies

No, Finland. No. Either do a grubby retro garage rock thing or do a showgirl soul thing. For the love of Lordi, do not splice them together. What is it even about? Is it finished? How did this get through an initial long-listing process let alone an expert shortlist? What the hell else got submitted?

Reach Out For The Sun – Anni Saiku

Almost aggressively inoffensive, and blandly positive, it’s the kind of song that could really benefit from a big anthemic cheesy house remix that would at least put some form of ecstatic whoosh behind the chorus. As it is, it just doesn’t kick in at all.

Paradise – My First Band

Bloody hell. I mean, there are promises of sexual prowess and then there’s ‘I will leave you paralysed when I kiss your paradise’. No, lads, that’s not a nice metaphor, that’s GBH. They follow this up with a bunch more lyrics that make it sound like a Tinder date with this band would be one where you’d be running away through the fire escape or bathroom window. Swipe left? No, delete the whole app and burn your phone. I hate this. It sounds like a big hit.

Love Yourself – Günther and D’Sanz

Previously, memes have come out of Eurovision (let’s have 10 hours of Moldova’s very own Epic Sax Guy) but I think this is maybe the first time that a meme has tried to go the other way. As an amateur meme anthropologist, I’m going to try and dissect this dispassionately. Günther is a Swedish singer famous for the Ding Dong Song, which entered the meme-sphere for the phrase ‘oooh, you touch my tralala’ and the titillating Eurotrash-style accompanying pop video. It’s funny because it plays into the trope that Scandinavian folks are more relaxed than US and UK people about sex, and also that somehow Scandinavia lives in a perpetual Birkenstocked, lavishly moustachioed, wood-panelled sauna of 1970’s sexual permissiveness.

This is like that, but about wanking. Günther’s spoken word bits are actually amazing, but the generic Eurodance chorus and pathetically weak key-change rob it of any potential impact. With a bit more work on the music, this could have been good daft fun in Euroclub and a dodgy 10th place qualifier.

It is definitely not the stupidest thing that might find itself riding the Boaty McBoatface anarchy vote to Kyiv this year. And I like it much better than Paradise.

Circle Of Light – Emma 

Generally the songs that get used as ‘inspirational templates’ for the following Eurovision are not the ones that heartbreakingly failed to qualify, but I guess we should just let Finland be Finland in this regard. Maybe they aren’t planning on ominous stage projections of scary gothic hands? Maybe they’re not planning on dressing Emma as sexy Ozzy Osbourne? Maybe they’ll actually get poor, doomed Greta Salome on the stage to play her fiddle during the really rather good fiddle bits? Who knows. But I am still not over what happened to Hear Them Calling and for me this one is too soon.

Arrows – Alva

I am trying but I can’t get hooked on to this one. Repetitive, plaintive and harmonically very boring. It also contains some high risk notes in the chorus which don’t even sound very confidently supported on the studio version. Combined with a really flat backing track, this failed to make any impression on me.

My Little World – Club La Persé

I mean why not. Well, obviously that’s why not, but in the post-truth world why shouldn’t something that is post-tune and post-taste not proudly bear the Finnish flag all the challenging, ear-bleeding way to Kyiv? At least I imagine they’d be a total riot to interview. Nope out of ten.

 

Flew – Angeelia ft NOËP

Well. One of the few nice things that happened this week was that ERR released the details of the 20 contenders for Eesti Laul 2017. The Listen Outsiders are going to be covering the alternative end of the Eurovision beat for the 2017 season, and as part of that we’re heading to the final of Eesti Laul next March.

So who might we see there? Angeelia is one of the artists who are new to the contest – she’s a singer songwriter from Tallinn and she’s going to be entering a song called We Ride With Our Flow. We haven’t heard the actual song yet, but embedded above is her collaboration with NOËP (another exciting electropop act from Tallinn!) which was initially drawn to my attention by none other than official Listen Outside Genius Mick Pedaja.

This song has a sense of beautiful geometric calm that showcases two gorgeous voices. Can’t wait to hear your song, Angeelia. 

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Oo se kun oot – Sanni feat Paperi T

If you don’t participate in the grand festival of international pop that is Eurovision national final season, you’ll only just have become aware of Finland’s wonderful Saara Alto, who is currently battling the forces of evil on the UK X Factor (is that what happens on X Factor? I don’t watch it myself)

We’ve already featured some great Finnish music on Listen Outside, but for the rest of the week, I’ll be keeping it Suomi.

First up is Sanni – she’s one of a new wave of exciting Finnish-language pop singer songwriters. Her thing seems to be challenging, shifting beats that slightly distort the form of her pop songs. She’s already on her third album – she released the latest one, SANNI earlier this month.

Sanni is on Facebook

Venüs – Billur Yapıcı

I was feeling despondent, because my first pick for tonight turned out to have a really exploitative male-gaze video that didn’t even have a comedy brass band in it, and so I didn’t feel I could post it. We’ve got principles here.

But then this song popped up! It’s Venüs by Turkish electro singer Billur Yapıcı who used to perform as Nükleer Başlıklı Kız (Nuclear Headed Girl) and it is, I think you’ll agree, a pretty great pop song. A nice amount of guitars, excitingly vibrant synths, a chorus that goes wooo-ooo-ooo and a menacing friend in an origami rabbit mask. (If you want a menacing animal mask, I buy all of mine from Wintercroft)

What more could we ask for?

Billur is on Facebook

 

Dark Black – My Heart The Brave

It’s Friday night and time for some epic Danish electropop from My Heart The Brave. Armed with woozy Jean Michel Jarre synths and a slightly wonky Mike Oldfield guitar/synth solo, this is coming at you from a firmly late 70s electronica place, but also manages to be a thoroughly 21st century dancefloor anthem. He says on his Facebook that this is ‘probably the best thing I’ve ever done’, and I hope that I hear enough more from him that I get to argue about that.

This song would sound amazing on the radio. I want them to play this song on the radio. I want the BBC to re-invent their pop music TV offering so that My Heart The Brave can awkwardly bop along to this behind a massive synth with fake teak on the side panels. That is what this record sounds like.

My Heart The Brave is on Soundcloud

My Heart The Brave has a website

 

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Game on: Sweden vs Belgium

And the final match of the group stages is between Sweden, a country where I’d already got a totally acknowledged love of their pop scene and Belgium, a country whose pop scene is new to me and with which I’m totally enraptured.

For Sweden we have the wonderful, celebratory sound of Ida Redig’s Du är bäst which is like a sort of energetic piano cover of a mid-nineties inspirational house song, with all the heart-swelling emotion and danceability that implies.

For Belgium we have the smokey and slick modern pop of Alice On The Roof, which meanders beautifully and insistently into your brain.

Which country had the better song? Sweden or Belgium?

View Results

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Du är bäst –  Ida Redig [Uplifting hands-in-the-air stuff with a big heart]

Lucky You – Alice On The Roof [Adorably polished modern pop music]