Listen Outside officially loves a duet, and also loves a bit of the soulful Nordic language downbeat pop. Imagine our delight when Syliin by previous Listen Outside artist Vilma Alina turns out to be a heart-tugging boy/girl Finnish language duet. Delicious.
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.
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.
I had a listen, then I had another listen immediately after and googled the song name. It really is in reference to UFO’s guys, I’m not sure why that makes it even better but it does. They’re Finnish which makes this lovely sounding, indie shoe-shuffling bit of pop quite a departure from what you’ve come to expect from the music scene in Finland. Think Belle and Sebastian at their best. I like the male and female voices together with the rather haunting backing vocals floating in and out behind them. It’s very well put together and really wouldn’t sound out of place on that playlist you have for impressing people with your indie credentials, we know you have one.
From Finland’s thriving pop scene comes Ufoja: a lovely burst of futuristic, yet warm-hearted anthemic pop music by Vilma Alina. It’s got a lovely rising bridge, a chorus that’s rhythmically confusing enough to get stuck in your brain and just enough robotic bells and whistles to keep it interesting all the way to the end.
Vilma has been on the Finnish pop scene since about 2014, as a solo artist and playing keyboards live for fellow Finnish pop star Robin. As we’re going to keep saying at Listen Outside, you don’t have to understand the lyrics to get the song. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Vilma in the future and giving her album a listen too.
Yona is another magnificent product of the Finnish dream pop industry. Naivi – released in May 2105 – was her 5th album in five years, and one that I was introduced to via the sonorous, unhurried beauty of the opening track Matka.
This record is like the a refreshing evening breeze after a stifling hot day. It’s the sound of the condensation on the first glass of wine.of a beautiful summer holiday. If the thermal contrast metaphors aren’t strong enough, it’s a collection of low key but not lightweight songs of delicate, tango influenced beauty.
Other highlights include the cute, slightly dubby Niitty ja taivas, blissed out but anthemic Indigoi (which incorporates spoken word bits – extra points!) and Tule minun luokseni rakas, which is the main theme from the mumblecore Bond film they’re making in a parallel universe. And then there’s vagely the Portisheadian Syyt which appears to have been a single.
I look forward to spending quiet summer evenings with this on, and will soon be getting into her next EP – Jona which is apparently out soon. Hurrah for lovely, prolific Yona.