Listen Up: Bashar Murad Recommends

It’s been nearly a month since Hatari and Bashar Murad brought Klefi/Samed screaming into the daylight. To celebrate the record hitting the streaming services (although I implore you not to forget that the very striking video exists) I thought it would be nice to explore a little bit more music from Palestine, with the help of Bashar himself. But first, stream Klefi/Samed…

Some dudes. Some desert. A flag.

Bashar originally posted the following songs in his instastories, and like some sort of weirdo, I started collecting them in a Spotify playlist. Then, I asked Bashar if he minded me turning them into this post, which he didn’t. Now let’s have the music…

Ghazall – Ashkara

Ghazall come from Nazareth and in the video for Ashkara they’re combining two of my favourite things: prog synths and slightly taking the piss. It is a wind-the-car-window-down song, and you can enjoy the confused stars of the passers by as they wonder who you are and why you are so cool? Autotranslate has failed me on the lyrics – is it about luck? [instagram facebook soundcloud]

DAM – Share’ 20

I’ve been enjoying DAM for a bit now – they’re heavily featured on Spotify’s Palestine Sounds playlist and I thought that they’d be a good addition to my playlist of political electronic music. Bashar recommended Share’ 20, which evokes images of cigarettes and coffee on the titular street, but I also really like Jasadik-Hom which has really powerful lead vocals from Maysa Daw who is spitting uncompromising fire on the subject of owning her body under the dual struggles of occupation and misogyny. [website facebook]

Moody Kablawi – Mali Mal

The ‘only trip hop artist in Palestine’ brings us Mali Mal (Got No Money), whose vibe I appreciated greatly. And THEN, I found out that the song is accompanied by this really interesting video which attempts to show us what the world looks like to Moody because of his nystagmus eye condition. Moody is from Haifa, but says he also owes his sound to Bristol and Berlin. [facebook soundcloud]

ELCONTAINER – Container

ELCONTAINER are a METAL band, you guys. Don’t let the chill bluesy vibe of the first 50 seconds of Container fool you. I am almost getting NWOBHM vibes from their heavy but not ostentatious guitar work, but then there’s also a bit of ska in there? Confusing but highly enjoyable, like the best things in life. If you liked that, try Badaleh. [facebook soundcloud]

Rasha Nahas – The Clown

Theatrical and fabulous, Rasha is like a red velvet curtain with razor-blade tassels. There’s cabaret, there’s poetry, there’s wild rock vibes, there’s violins and there’s a dangerous twinkle in her eye. She comes from Haifa, and now lives and works in Berlin. This video is EXTRAORDINARY, by the way.

If you enjoyed this, I’ve embedded my Spotify playlist here. It’s also got a Bashar song on it.

A Summer Blast of Baltic Chill

Hello! There have been a series of interesting new releases from the Baltic nations this week. Let’s run through them.

Starting in Estonia, long-running faves Frankie Animal are back with Playful. It’s in the same vein as their ultra-cool Eesti Laul entry (Can’t Keep Calling) Misty, but with a positive, sunshiney air instead of the damp misery of a heart getting kicked in down a subway.

Moving south to Latvia, we’re keeping the sun-drenched, stretched-out vibe going with Like You – a collaboration between retrowave synth revivalists Kasetes and beautifully be-mulletted experimental art/music/concepts icon MNTHA.

[MNTHA bandcamp] [Kasetes bandcamp]

This week’s most troubling Baltic new release is the return of Lolita Zero. Not content with bringing watermelon smashing, protruberant aubergine-coloured horns and Jurijus’ stealth falsetto to the Lithuanian Eurovision Selection Marathon, Lolita now returns with a deeply credible electro sad-banger. I’m so pleased and so confused.

Also, note that Borderline Queen is exactly 3 minutes long, so please join me in shaking your fists at the Eurovision gods who didn’t allow this in the 2019 Lithuanian Beige Tune Rammy.



Emma Smetana & Jordan Haj: Lost And Found

Let’s get back into the music recommendations with a love story between two upsettingly beautiful people. Let’s start with Emma Smetana. She was born in Prague, spent her childhood in Paris, studied European Affairs at the Sciences Po in Paris and International Relations in the Free University of Berlin. She returned to the Czech Republic where she worked as a journalist and TV news anchor. She’s also a stage and film actress and since 2012 she’s expanded her remit to include producing sultry pop music. Truly, she’s an impressive woman.

Her other half, Jordan Haj, is an Israeli/Palestinian/Czech actor and musician. He’s got his own band – Peter Pan Complex – but I think that you’re going to find the duets with Emma more compelling.

Lost and Found is the kind of chemistry-first duet I love. They’re sharing a mic! Their bands are duelling! They’re smouldering at each other! Jordan’s wounded roar contrasts amazingly with Emma’s smooth purr, as they wonder what putting so much of their lives on display costs them. The haunting 1960’s vibe

If you enjoyed this, there’s also No Fire and Waiting

Emma Smetana has a website

Emma Smetana is on Facebook

Mega Interview: There’s No Friends Like Anarchicks

Back in May, I was in Lisbon, almost totally immersed in Eurovision. On my night off, I met up with two deeply excellent people – Ana and Rita of Anarchicks. The plan was to talk about the Portuguese underground music scene, gender politics and what it’s like for the locals when Eurovision comes to town. What actually happened was ten thousand times more awesome than that. Enjoy the wild and rambling ride…

So, please enjoy my chat with Ana and Rita and then have a massive rock out to their new single No Friend. I love their commitment to the visual storytelling about inner conflict and identity in the video clip. Plus, you know, they know how to rock looks.

Game On: Russia vs Saudi Arabia

We find ourselves on the brink of a month of footballing excitement and Listen Outside is back to bring you another instalment of the GAME ON series. But first! The dubious spectacle of the opening match.

Listen Outside has a bit of a commitment to bringing you music that challenges your ideas about places, so for Russia vs Saudi Arabia we are bringing you two all female bands

For Russia, we have a brief, intense burst of feminist punk from Stresshold. This 53 second yell is Toshnota (Nausea). Sample lyrics: “Dreary everyday life, patriarchal lies“. Heck, I’ve embedded the whole album, it’ll only take ten minutes of your time.

For Saudi Arabia, we take a look back to The AccoLade, a 4 piece all-female rock band from Jeddah. Necessarily operating under difficult conditions, they got to the point of recording an EP in 2009. I wonder what they’re doing now? I would love to hear from Lamia and co.

So, while you contemplate the World Cup’s least democratic ever match (According to the World Bank’s index of democracy, Russia are 135th of 167 and Saudi Arabia are 159th) please do a couple of things for me. Vote for your favourite song below, share Listen Outside with your friends and drop Amnesty International a couple of quid.

[poll id=”57″]

 

 

Eurovision 2018 – Semi Final 2 Reviews

Day 3 in the Eurovision Press centre and we’ve all lost our critical faculties. Madness has set in. Let’s have the other half of my reviews which I wrote when I could still judge anything.

 

Norway: Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song 

As you heard on Juke Box Jury, I’m in a strange superposition of like/dislike on this one. It’s a very strange feeling indeed. On the one hand, Alexander is an absolute master on stage. He’s a true star, able to sprinkle actual stardust on anything. On the other hand, ‘That’s How You Write A Song’ has a lot of short-comings. There are no real new ideas after the 2nd verse, there’s no moment of emotional catharsis or climax (unless you really enjoy a fiddle reveal) and it’s definitely on the side of being childish rather than sophisticated. But what’s wrong with being childish? The world is going to hell. Why not have a manic pixie dream boy tell us that everything will be alright if we just believe in ourselves and try hard?

Grab factor: The performer. The song.

Drag factor: The song. The performer.

 

Romania: The Humans – Goodbye

There’s definitely a song there. There’s a big 90s chart power ballad there. There’s a one hit wonder that gets put on Inspirational Compilation for Mum Volume 3. There’s a band with a really fantastic frontwoman and some guys. There’s a couple of very long maudlin verses and there’s a chorus which seems to have a lot of words in it. There’s something there.

Grab factor: Power ballad grabby fist of pure emotion

Drag factor: Takes forever to get going

 

Serbia: Balkanica – Nova Deca

I remember enjoying the interval at Beovizija so much – an endless parade of the best and boldest that former Yugoslav republics had offered – that I sort of forgot who won. Being forgotten has been Serbia’s curse this year. I keep forgetting that this song is in the competition, and the curse even caused it to be left out of the Juke Box Jury line up. It is pleasant. It starts. It continues. It finishes.

Grab factor: mmm, difficult

Drag factor: The Curse of Forgetting

 

San Marino: Jessika & Jenifer Brening – Who We Are

After a troubled and confusing selection process, San Marino has make the Eurovision dreams of Malta’s Jessika Muscat and Germany’s Jenifer Brening come true. They’re such lovely and personable gals that I wish they had a better song than Who We Are with its daft rap bit and its deeply familiar chorus.

Grab factor: Listen up, listen up, it’s me Jenny B

Drag factor: If they don’t bring the robots, they’re sunk

 

Denmark: Rasmussen – Higher Ground

A big old hunk of Viking cheese, and a sourdough roll, washed down with some pseudo authentic early Medieval ale down the historical re-enactment centre. A tale of the sort of Vikings who decided that trading and getting on with people was less tiring and more effective than the old raiding and naval invasion. But gosh, it’s stirring! And everyone is already on board with the whole Game of Viking Black Sails Dark Souls post-Roman weathered leather aesthetic. This is fine. Well done Denmark for finding a variety of safe that is actually quite rugged and sexy.

Grab factor: It’s yer man! Yer man who wants to have babies with the lady knight! It’s that massive ginger beardy man!

Drag factor: Big formulaic cheese anthem, once you get through the +3 leather armour.

 

Russia: Yulia Samoylova – I Won’t Break

A pleasingly melodic R&B ballad with a hummable chorus, which sadly isn’t delivered to its full potential because of the problems with Yulia’s diction when singing in English. The staging is clearly going to be astonishing in either a good or bad way, and I am terribly nervous about the whole spectacle.

Grab factor: Mount Russiamore seems like it’s happening.

Drag factor: If they’ve not sorted out the backing vocals, we may have a problem.

 

Moldova: DoReDos – My Lucky Day

Now we get the actual Russia entry. I loved DoReDos in their previous perky folky attempts at representing Moldova, but it seems to have taken the intervention and mentorship of Philip Kirkorov for them to actually get the nod. My Lucky Day is precisely the kind of thing I was hoping they’d bring, all local trumpets and daft beats. I like it.

Grab factor: As fun and bouncy as a fully inflated space hopper

Drag factor: Not the most sophisticated thing in the world ever.

 

Netherlands: Waylon – Outlaw In E Minor

Ah dear. Either this is a pastiche of bone-headed gun-toting Deep South country rock or it is a literal 4 Real interpretation of bone-headed gun-toting Deep South country rock. If it is a big silly pastiche that is winking at the camera – making Waylon the Lordi of Country music I guess? – then I guess this is fine because it’s very good at what it does and packed full of good ol’ boy clichés. If it’s for real, then it’s a bit tragic because it’s packed full of good ol’ boy clichés. I need to find out myself who the real Waylon is, because at the minute his self-portrayal as an arrogant, saturnine chauvinist is conflicting heavily with his fans insistence that he’s a sweet wee chap with a heart of gold. If he’s for real, why isn’t this better? If this is a pastiche, why is it so humourless and studied? Why doesn’t it give me more of a sense of Waylon’s real experiences over in Nashville? Where is the heart?

Grab factor: Obvious but infectious guitar riff klaxon

Drag factor: Is the Netherland’s fave problematic? What is this?

 

Australia: Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love

It’s like if Azerbaijan’s song was good. Jessica Mauboy has a proper chance of winning it for the Aussies, who I am sure would be thrilled to say the least. I would also be thrilled for them, because they are one of the handful of Eurovision nations that really want it and are actively striving for the win. Some of the line breaks in the lyrics are a bit… odd but when you get to the drum break down bit and Jess starts vamping, it takes off. I am hoping for big things.

Grab factor: Big solid anthem with a warm heart.

Drag factor: I can still slightly see the template showing through

 

Georgia: Ethno Jazz Band Iraio – For You

This song is like a refreshing hot shower for your soul. Put it on, and let it wash over you. Let the ebb and flow take you away to the threshold of the jazz dimension. Let the polyphony intensify inside your soul. And enjoy it while it lasts because Georgia were the only ones to take Salvador’s memo about this being TradJazzovision seriously and I don’t think it’s going to work, no matter how beautiful it is.

Grab factor: This is a very well dressed band indeed

Drag factor: Folks haven’t been to the loo or the kitchen to top up drinks since either the start of the show or they were made very uncomfortable by the Russian staging. They’ve gone to the loo.

 

Poland: Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – Light Me Up

I don’t really have a massive amount to say about this, it’s ok I suppose, especially when Lukas gets the big notes in the chorus. It is one of the most radio-friendly songs that we have in the competition, and maybe that’s why I feel so much like I could hear this whenever I wanted. And as such, it loses its appeal.

Grab factor: There’s a reasonable drop in it

Drag factor: There’s not a lot else to it.

 

Malta: Christabelle – Taboo

It’s Christabelle’s turn! She’s bringing us a message about the importance of relating to each other sensibly in terms of our states of mental health. This is one of the key messages of our times, alongside ‘Women are people’, ‘Racism isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid’ and ‘Don’t retweet hate speech’ and so it’s wonderful to see it on the Eurovision stage. Huge applause to Christabelle. Hope it looks great on stage.

Grab factor: Malta will bring it in terms of staging.

Drag factor: Song could be more sonically distinctive

 

Hungary: AWS – Viszlat Nyar

Hurrah! And as much as I didn’t love and don’t get the song from the Netherlands, I love and totally get this noisy little bundle of fun from Hungary. It’s a pop song about bereavement and acceptance of mortality hidden behind a squall of noisy, crunchy guitars. It’s a big bonfire of emotion and catharsis. It’s going to have the most pyro I have ever seen on a Eurovision stage. I am so happy that we’ve got AWS here. I would also be really upset if it turned out that they were pro-Orban types.

Grab factor: You already know whether you like this or not from the first second.

Drag factor: If you drink on pyro you will definitely die.

 

Latvia: Laura Rizotto – Funny Girl

With a big leathery swish-thwack, we enter the heightened emotional masochism of Laura Rizotto stuck in the friend zone, making her intended laugh but nothing else. Laura’s performance style is theatrical and physical, with head snaps and dramatic gestures that intensify the swish-thwack rhythm.

Grab factor: Laura herself

Drag factor: The song doesn’t really go anywhere, and the middle 8 is weak.

 

Sweden: Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off

I’ve deliberately not watched the Melfest performance of Dance You Off, because apparently it’s visually spectacular and I want to be at least a little bit surprised by how it comes out on stage in Lisbon. The song itself is totally inoffensive, slick to the point of total frictionlessness. A good song needs a little bit of friction to it, otherwise it slips effortlessly in one of your ears and out the other, leaving barely a trace. Songs with a little bit of friction get stuck in your head without irritating your brain. There is no friction.

Grab factor: Ooooh, shiny!

Drag factor: The smooth polished surfaces of industrial Swedish pop.

 

Montenegro: Vanja Radovanovic – Inje

While the song is as far from last year’s Montenegrin song as you can imagine, the uncompromising artistic attitudes of the performers remain the same. In fact, that has been the case with all the really good Montenegrin acts. They are who they are, their music is what it is and they’re not willing to dilute even a little bit. Vanja is turning out to be one of the characters of this year’s contest, and the fact that this hilarious rebel is giving us a song about a relationship dying through entropic build up and indifference is quite the juxtaposition. That’s not how Vanja would break up with you.

Grab factor: Balkan ballad time!

Drag factor: Six songs since the last slowie. The Ballad Bog Break curse strikes again.

 

Slovenia: Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne

In an ideal world there’d be three songs this year that were glorious yells of female defiance. We’ve got Toy, we sadly missed out on O Malo and we’ve got the gem that is Hvala Ne. Thanks but no thanks, says Lea Sirk, flipping her hair and looking contemptuously at the patriarchy. Thanks but no thanks, she says, backed by her fierce posse of backing dancers who are definitely laughing at either your car, your genitalia or your shoes. Thanks but no thanks, she says to everyone who ever told her she was less than or that she couldn’t or that she didn’t know. Thanks and thanks again, I say to Lea as I roll down my car window and blast this out loud.

Grab factor: It makes me move in certain ways.

Drag factor: It’s a bit of a racket, let’s be honest. But that works for me.

 

Ukraine: Melovin – Under The Ladder 

And finally in the semi final line up we’ve got Melovin, who is in possession of several items that would be contraband if he were an audience member. But how could he be an audience member? The lad is clearly a star, playing up his mildly exotic heterochromism and dressing like he’s in an industrial hardcore band. The song reminds me of singing along to a Duran Duran song that I sort of know by osmosis from the original time of release, back in the 80s but that now I’m hearing on the radio. I’m trying to sing along but the words are coming out garbled. But I don’t care because it feels really good.

Grab factor: WOAH-OH-OH!

Drag factor: Does it actually sound like a half-remembered Duran Duran song?

 

 

Germany

I can’t slag this off because Michael and his songwriting team have constructed a touching ode to Michael’s departed father.

 

Grab factor: It’s full of the Sheeran Factor.

Drag factor: It’s full of the Sheeran Factor.

 

 

Italy

Meta e Moro is an interesting choice for Italy. They clearly know that they’ve got an important song that they want Europe to hear, but do they know that most of Europe will find that it has about 75% too many syllables per line? Are the rumoured on screen subtitles going to be enough to make it clear that this isn’t just two Italian men shouting tunefully about something, but that it’s another great comment on the horror and nonsensical conflicts of our time?

 

Grab factor: That’s a big chorus if you survive the word bombardment of the verses

Drag factor: The risk that no-one will know what this is about.

 

France

A truly lovely piece of storytelling which wrings the emotions out of you. The fact that it’s a true story and the children really are being lost to the cold, cold sea and that Iawio and Mercy did make it across adds so many extra dimensions to it. I think the French delegation have been very careful about finding the line where ‘explaining what the song is about’ and ‘political messaging’ lies and that because of this, the story of the song Mercy is somewhat distanced from the current struggles that displaced people face. There is an argument that the song would be more appropriate sung by someone who has experienced some of the traumas of having to escape their home, but there is also the argument that some parts of Europe would find it hard to vote for an artist who was a refugee, especially if they were a person of colour or a noticeably observant Muslim.

 

Last summer, I was talking with Lisa about who we would like to see representing various countries for the 2018 contest. We decided that we’d like to see Basalt represent Austria. They’re a trio of musicians originally from Syria who made new homes for themselves in Vienna. They collaborated with Conchita last summer on a subtle and delicate song called A Small House, which led to them being embroiled in a news story last summer when the UK Home Office failed to allow them permits to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. We thought that maybe hooking Basalt up with a songwriting team to come up with a song that combined their sound with an anthemic, hooky chorus and that described their refugee experience in plain language might potentially do quite well at Eurovision. So it’s nice to see echoes of our imagined plan for Austria occurring in what France are actually doing!

 

Grab factor: It’s not really a question of if I start crying, it’s when.

Drag factor: First time listeners on Grand Final night will need to know what this is about. Maybe their local commentator will brief them. Maybe they won’t.

Eurovision 2018 – Semi Final 1 Reviews

You might notice that these reviews are terribly, terribly late this year. Normally I write them about the time of the Head of Delegations meeting. That was over a month ago now, and I’m actually finishing these off on the plane to Lisbon, where we’re going to settle the matter of which of these songs is the most universal.

That’s the realisation I’ve come to in the months between this contest and the last one. We’re not rewarding songwriting excellence, vocal technique, PR campaigns or innovative staging, we’re rewarding the song that is able to make the most people feel something. All the elements above can help to make your performance into something that makes people feel something, but they’re all useless without that moment of emotional connection.

So when you’re listening, listen with your heart.

Here’s your handy dandy video playlist. Let’s begin.

Azerbaijan: AISEL – X My Heart

Daft as you like, nicely executed template dance-pop like you’d expect from a cash-rich, pop-scene-poor nation like Azerbaijan. They’ve gone further down the template road this year by getting the producer of 2017 zeitgeisty fave City Lights to give the thing a reswizzle. No amount of atmospheric synths can hide that this isn’t Dihaj getting conceptual with a besuited centaur up a ladder. Both of which would be banned this year.

Grab factor: Staging might be ace, hooks a-plenty. Silly lyrics work in it’s favour, strangely.

Drag factor: The total lack of originality except with the deployment of Standard Pop English.

Iceland: Ari Olafsson – Our Choice

What happened, Iceland? Where is the weird small nation that innovates through the cold dark winter months and brings us treats? What is this inspirational song from a lost 90’s devotional film? What is lovely Ari Olafsson doing fronting this? Why?

Grab factor: Ari is a darling. I would love for him to have a much grabbier song.

Drag factor: The song, sadly

Albania: Eugent Bushpepa – Mall

I spend the first couple of months of every year trying not to listen to the song that won Festival I Kenges because I know that whatever they’ve picked in December won’t be the thing that makes it to stage in May. Except this year, it sort of is. Mall is the 3 minute cut of Eugent’s stirring, driving 4:30 minutes of yearning for his distant girlfriend. It’s entirely in Albanian and the language of passion. It’s good. It might even qualify.

Grab factor: Oof, this is nice.

Drag factor: 12/8 heartfelt rock rock ballads might be jarring for the Tuesday night crowd.

 

Belgium: SENNEK – A Matter Of Time

In which an IKEA visual merchandiser rearranges some mid-priced home furnishings just so and comes up with a lush, slightly nihilistic Bond theme about the dying ebbs of a relationship. Sennek has troubled some with her vocal performances during the preview party circuit, but I’m sure it’ll be alright on the night. Not sure it’s a winner, even performed to perfection.

Grab factor: It sounds reassuringly expensive, and everyone loves a Bond theme.

Drag factor: Does everyone actually love a Bond theme? Can Sennek give us the full majesty of her vocal range?

Czech Republic: Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me

Before I saw Mikolas deliver this live with playback at London Eurovision Party, it was down in my 40s in my rankings, but now I grudgingly admit that a) it’s a bop b) he can sell it and c) he’s a very charming and determined young artist with what it takes to become a major pop star. The lyrics are a total shambles of slut-shaming and grossly biological imagery, but apparently no-one takes lyrics seriously these days and I should calm down. Apparently.

Grab factor: That trumpet hook. Oh my word.

Drag factor: Can Mikolas, his backpack and two his mates fill the stage?

 

Lithuania: Ieva Zasimauskiate – When We’re Old

This will probably mark my first little blub of rehearsal season when I see it on stage in Lisbon. It’s such a …married… song and I am a married lady who’ll be missing her other half. Ieva’s delivery is so natural and delicate, like a soap bubble on some forest moss, that I expect it to disappear at any moment. It will seem even more tiny and precious between the brass of Czechia and the awesome stomp of Israel.

Grab factor: Shh, I want to listen to the forest nymph singing!

Drag factor: People may go ‘TOO SLOW’ and make a cuppa.

 

Israel: Netta Barzilai – Toy

Toy was the song in the pre-season that I had to make a determined effort to stop listening to, because I wanted to preserve the mad rush that it made me feel when I first heard it. I first heard it, muffled and crappy, on someone’s phone in Norway. I heard it for the second time via a leak on twitter. For the 3rd through 100th times, I heard it on constant repeat in my actual brain. Then I had to give it a rest. It makes me dance, it gives me attitude and I am so glad that we’ve got Netta in the Eurovision family. I am starting to think that it won’t win, but I would be happy if it does.

Grab factor: Constructed entirely from things that could potentially grab people by the eyeballs, earlobes and brainstem.

Drag factor: We keep saying that a fun time pop record ought to win Eurovision. But will it? Have we as a continent decided that we only give the title to worthy stuff nowadays? Will this look a mess on stage?

 

Belarus: Alekseev – Forever

I heard many versions of Forever before Alekseev settled on this one. They all sounded similar. It’s a ballad with unsettling minor undertones and the kind of sentiments that a supervillain might espouse to a captive superhero – you’ll be mine forever! In his national final he became his own LED screen, in a custom pair of electrical pyjamas. I would like to make some of those, they sound like a fun arduino project.

Grab factor: Apparently the lad is famous.

Drag factor: There have been poor vocal performances of it, and to be honest for me it really lacks a point of connection.

 

Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza

It’s not so much a song as a series of Verdi aria titles arranged to fit a loose rhyme scheme, a showcase for Elina’s luminous but icy cold beauty, an incredible bit of projection mapping and a festival of many of the best notes that live above the stave. It is notably straight faced and lacking in camp, although the Eesti Laul performance in which the hosts did her post-performance interview by poking a mic on a big stick up at her on the podium was a delight. I don’t know whether playing this as a straight art piece is going to work but I don’t care because I think it’s beautiful just the way it is.

Grab factor: An alien beauty shatters the wine glass of your mind with fractal zoom videos. That’s not your average Tuesday night.

Drag factor: Received wisdom is that Eurovision doesn’t actually like the operatics that much.

 

Bulgaria: Equinox – Bones

Launched amidst a cloud of rumour, Equinox brings together some very interesting voices. Bringing the high, clear tones of Johnny Manuel into contrast with the earthy howl of Zhana Bergendorff and the deep soul vocal of Trey Campbell is fascinating. The vocal blend sounds like they’ve been a band for years, rather than months. For me, the studio version of the song is like a chilly blast from another dimension but the live version, seeing the ebb and flow between the performers gives it the warmth and human connection needed. Hugely impressive.

Grab factor: Incredibly dramatic.

Drag factor: The fact that it’s a construct might turn off people who have been instructed that this year is all about authenticity.

 

Macedonia: Eye Cue – Lost and Found

Lost and Found is like someone trying to remember how to play Out of Space by the Prodigy from memory, without the proper equipment. A chunky pop sandwich with a delicious reggae filling and delightful garnishes of vocal ad libs. There is potential for a staging catastrophe, which I sincerely hope they avoid. I really like it, but I worry for it.

Grab factor: Buy one song; get another song and a half for free! Also, the bit where the ‘HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT?’ kicks in.

Drag factor: Frankensteined songs unsettle audiences, which are timid and fear change.

 

Croatia: Franka B – Crazy

I like a bit of R&B swing, I like a song that goes ba-ba-ba-da-bah, I like a totally fruity spoken word interlude and I like a tone of slight sexual insanity in a pop song. Then why do I keep forgetting that Franka will be in Semi 1?

Grab factor: Camp British RP spoken word section, yes PLEASE.

Drag factor: Less exciting than the previous three songs and less exciting than two of the 3 songs that will follow it.

 

Austria: César Sampson – Nobody But You

Handsome Cesar is only three days older than I am, and I think we’ve both packed a lot of incident into our 34 years on the planet. Austria seem to be very happy to be the Eurovision nation that provides a very affable, very friendly performer with a pleasant and positive song that you’d have to be a terrible churl to not want to qualify. Like Running On Air, I didn’t quite click with Nobody But You on first listen, but then as the playlist went round, I found that this was the one where I was hollering along with the backing vocalists as I drove along the M8 to work.

Grab factor: Handsome and polite man sings song of high quality.

Drag factor: Lacks razzamatazz.

 

Greece: Yianna Terzi – Oniro Mou

I did this one on Juke Box Jury back in March (the one in Norway where we’d had a couple of light ales before the recording) and my sentiments remain the same. It’s very pleasant indeed, it’s a bit of the old Enya gone Hellenic vibe but and I would appreciate getting a massage or some form of spiritual energy treatment whilst listening to it. In terms of Eurovision qualification? Man I have no idea. It’s going to need a full five kitchen sink stage production and vocals that turn spines to quivering jelly.

Grab factor: Guaranteed to align your chakras

Drag factor: As your cares and stresses melt away, so does any way of distinguishing the verse bit from the chorus.

 

Finland: Saara Aalto – Monsters

I love Saara but I worry that she isn’t the one driving the bus on this. Instead of the knowing winks, high quality showwomanship and total commitment to the Eurovision dream that I was expecting, we seem to have Saara being controlled by people who have a very British view of Eurovision and want her on giant props, singing upside down and cramming a decade’s worth of staging ideas into her 3 minutes. I wish she was going to be belting out Domino in what amounts to a gold version of the Dami Im gown from 2016, but it is what it is. Monsters is fine, but instead of something precious she’s going to be giving us something that’s So Eurovision. Oh well.

Grab factor: Saara’s charisma and big vocals.

Drag factor: They’re going to do something hideous on stage and I will have to watch through my fingers.

 

Armenia – Sevak Kanaghyan – Qami

Fair play Armenia, this is a very solid man ballad delivered by a very solid bear of a man in a very solid leather jerkin. Doesn’t really fit with the ‘Beautiful Armenian Queens of Folk Influenced Caucasus Pop’ vibe that they’ve had for the past couple of years but whatever. Not sure it will qualify, but it’s a pleasure to listen to Sevak interpret this with such passion.

Grab factor: Armenian sounds so beautiful when sung with such passion and power.

Drag factor: It’s been 10 songs since Lithuania. If the viewers with short attention spans didn’t go and refresh the drinks during Austria, they’re going to do it now.

 

Switzerland: ZIBBS – Stones

Poor old Zibbs. They’re the best that Switzerland has sent since Sebalter but I worry that’s not going to be enough. Coco and Ste are really lovely, engaging folk but that doesn’t get you points. Stones is a message about rejecting the reactionary fears and hatreds of the older ruling generation, but will being quite good be enough when you’re surrounded by great stuff?

Grab factor: You can sing along with it basically from the end of the first verse.

Drag factor: You can sing along with it basically from the end of the first verse.

 

Ireland: Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together

Dammit. I get to posting this set of reviews and I find that I didn’t actually review Ireland but instead got excited and proceeded directly to Cyprus. What a shame, because Ryan is such a lovely dude with a winning attitude (literally – he’s been talking about winning this year) and I want Ireland to rediscover their Eurovision mojo. But I have only two thoughts when I hear Together. 1) Wow, this song is such a downer and 2) We could have had John Lydon instead and that would have been really fun.

Grab factor: Ryan’s vocals are really sweet and strong, and he’s a big fan of a zip up high neck training top.

Drag factor: I just entirely forgot to review this song.

 

Cyprus: Eleni Foureria – Fuego

FUEGO. I have had the entire concept of pineapples ruined for me by this song. Or possibly enhanced. You see, Eleni’s pop video was sponsored by a major pineapple consortium and now whenever I see a pineapple or general bromeliad imagery my mind goes FUEGO. I am writing this review in a t-shirt with a pineapple on it because of this song. All I see, hear and think about becomes pineapple. FUEGO.

Grab factor: Uptempo song with dancy bits and a game attempt at a pop drop? Yes sir, we can boogie.

Drag factor: No-one will ever truly understand my pineapple jokes.


So that was all of the competing acts for the first semi. In a slight change to my usual format, here are the automatic qualifiers that will be voting in Semi Final 1.

Portugal: Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim

The nonchalantly gorgeous Claudia Pascoal and composer Isaura perform this beautiful song about bereavement as a solo that is sort of a duet. We’ve got three contrasting songs about the death of family members this year – this one has Isaura and Claudia promising to tend the literal and metaphorical garden of their departed relative. It’s gorgeous, subtle and incredibly chill. It’s not so much a lovely horse as a shimmering, dignified unicorn.

Grab factor: Timeless beauty, presence and stillness.

Drag factor: You get the feeling that Portugal still don’t understand how or why they won last year so they’re going to continue to be Maximum Portugal as if nothing ever happened.

 

UK: SuRie – Storm

For the second year running, we’ve got a top notch performer who is definitely going to give the material their best possible shot. For the, um, 8th year running we’ve got a song that sounds bafflingly like it was written specifically with basic ESOL vocabulary in mind, by someone fulfilling a very tightly written brief. Storm doesn’t have the courage to go full Clean Bandit like it really ought and consequently ambles along pleasantly but will likely not trouble the scorers too much.

Grab factor: All hail SuRie, queen of twitter and this year’s instagram champion.

Drag factor: Why do we keep sending songs that are the lyrical equivalent of TALKING SLOWLY AND LOUDLY WHEN ABROAD?

Spain: Alfred and Amaia – Tu Canción

Oh bless Amaia. Bless Alfred too, for trying to keep up with her soaring, emotive voice. Bless young love and bless the first time a young man realises how truly awesome women can be when you know them, are friends with them and love them. When they won the Lisbon ticket on the strength of their romance whilst cooped up in the Operation Triunfo house, I had ethical worries about the pressure placed on their fledgling relationship by the passion of Spanish Eurofandom. But they seem happy enough, and Tu Cancion is as sweet and sweeping as you’d imagine a duet about the first time you really fall for someone to be. I am glad I’m writing this review on the plane to Lisbon. If I’d written it in March, I might have been a bit more salty.

Grab factor: True love is beautiful, people.

Drag factor: True love is also gross and slightly annoying.

 

We Claim The Right – Anarchicks

Greater Lisbon punks Anarchicks are doing all the right things. Shouting, style, fierceness and super crunchy guitars. We Claim The Right is about resisting, rebelling and becoming involved with a movement as opposed to being a passive spectator. Join us on stage, they say.

Ok, you don’t have to ask me twice, I say.

Anarchicks have a website

Anarchicks are on Facebook

 

Best Youth – Mirrorball and Midnight Rain

Hello there. We’re off to Lisbon for some big musical jamboree in a week and a bit, and I’ve been listening to Portuguese alternative radio to get acclimated. I thought you might want to hear some Portuguese music that wasn’t fado, because I believe there’s going to be a lot of that.

One of the coolest sounding bands I’ve heard is Best Youth. They sound world weary and cool, but they sound like they’re dancing. Mirrorball, from is a 3am low key minimal disco prayer for dancefloor deliverance.

The super-slick late-night aesthetic continues with new single Midnight Rain, which comes really close to having the beat from Sexual Healing, but is distinctly more about regretful tear-streaked mascara. I am glad there are years of their work to explore, because I’m going to luxuriate in it.

Best Youth have a website

Best Youth are on Bandcamp