“Fringe” returns for a fifth and final season

After much nail-biting, which may have occurred in multiple dimensions depending on the day, and which version of me was doing the worrying, it’s been confirmed by a number of sites that Fringe will be back for a final 13 episodes.

There was uncertainty about whether this would happen, so much so that the producers of this unique ground-breaking show filmed two season four finales – one with a neat wrap-up, and one without that would lead seamlessly into a hoped for season five.

I am guessing that the first of these two would-be final episodes will now become a curiosity to be included in the extras section of the season four DVD box set when it bows later in the year.

While the show has been balancing on the knife-edge of renewal for some time thanks to poor ratings in its U.S. Friday night night time slot, what saved it was the lower license fees that the companies that produce it, Warner Bros TV and J. J. Abram’s Bad Robot offered Fox to keep it on air. That tipped the balance in favour of Fringe, and was the main reason it will outlast, albeit only briefly, better rating but far more expensive shows like Terra Nova and Alcatraz (the latter also produced by Bad Robot)

Here’s what both Fox and the show producers had to say about the renewal courtesy of ew.com:

“Fringe is a remarkably creative series that has set the bar as one of television’s most imaginative dramas,” said Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly. “Bringing it back for a final 13 allows us to provide the climactic conclusion that its passionate and loyal fans deserve. The amazing work the producers, writers and the incredibly talented cast and crew have delivered the last four seasons has literally been out of this world. Although the end is bittersweet, it’s going to be a very exciting final chapter.”

“We are thrilled and beyond grateful that Fox – and our fans – have made the impossible possible: Fringe will continue into a fifth season that will allow the series to conclude in a wild and thrilling way,” said co-creator and executive producer J.J. Abrams. “All of us at Bad Robot are forever indebted to our viewers and the amazingly supportive Fox network for allowing the adventures of Fringe Division to not only continue, but to resolve in a way that perfectly fits the show.”

“This pickup means the world (both of them) to us, because we love sharing these stories with our enthusiastic fans,” added Fringe showrunners and executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. “On behalf of the cast and crew, we applaud our fans and Fox for allowing us to imagine the impossibilities together for so long. Season Five is going to be a conclusive thrill ride for all of us.”

It will be sad to say goodbye to a show that has proven itself time and again to be endlessly innovative and clever beyond measure, and that has realised such a perfectly formed world of worlds that it seemed not just possible, but entirely conceivable that the reality that Fringe showcased was real.

But the true gift of this renewal is that fans including myself will get what many of us have been denied with other shows such as Dollhouse and Stargate Universe, which is closure and the comfort of knowing that the characters we love, and the world they inhabit, will have a send off befitting a show of this stature.

I think we can all raise one of Dr Bishop’s much-loved strawberry milkshakes to this wonderful news.

 

 

Review: “The Visitors” (Deluxe edition) – ABBA

The front cover of the deluxe version which was released today [via]

I am of a certain vintage now I will admit it, and being a person of that unspecified vintage (although the Sherlockian among you should be able to hazard a reasonable accurate guess about my age simply by virtue of my great and abiding love for ABBA, a trait common to people who grew up in the…ahem… and you’d likely be right), ABBA have always heard a place in my heart that the likes of Coldplay and Annie Lennox, much as I love and adore them, won’t ever occupy.

I guess that is what happens to the music you grow up with. Some people will hang on to it tightly for the rest of their lives letting no new music near their ears while others continue to explore new music while valuing that which has gone before. I am definitely in the latter camp, eagerly embracing all musical newcomers as long as they have a love for an engaging melody, and a gift for lyrics that say something truly worthwhile (or say something silly in a clever way at least) but somehow ABBA endures as the great all-encompassing musical love of my life.

So it makes sense that news of the release of the deluxe edition of their final album, The Visitors back in November or so last year sent me into paroxysms of giddy delight. The excitement index shot up even further when I discovered that as well as coming with the expected video extras, and non-album tracks (like the previous four deluxe albums plus the 30th Anniversary edition of Waterloo), ABBA were including a medley of demos of “Like an Angel Passing Through My Room”, recorded between May and November 1981.

ABBA on the Dick Cavette Meets ABBA TV show 1981

Carl Magnus Palm, who has written extensively about ABBA – he is responsible, as with all these deluxe releases, for the sumptuously-detailed booklet that accompanies the album – explains its exact nature in this passage on his excellent website, carlmagnuspalm.com:

“‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’ traces the evolution of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the closing track on The Visitors. Back in 1981, this particular song was one of the more challenging tunes during original recording sessions for the album. With the first demos and backing tracks being laid down in May 1981, it wasn’t until several different versions later, in November 1981 – only three weeks before the album reached record shops! – that ABBA finally landed on the version heard on the album.

As the Deluxe Edition of The Visitors was put together, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had the idea that it would be interesting to revisit the various recordings of the song and put together a medley. And this he did in October and November of 2011. The nine-minute medley takes us from the very first demo, with vocals by Björn, to a run-through with Benny on electric piano and Frida on lead vocals, similar to the final version. In between are a demo recording by Frida and Benny (on grand piano) with alternate lyrics entitled ‘Another Morning Without You’; a completely different “disco” attempt, played by a full band and with the final lyrics in place; and a ballad interpretation, also with a full band backing, featuring Frida on lead vocals.”

It was announced by a breathlessly excited world media as a new track, which as Benny one half of ABBA’s songwriting partnership pointed out in an interview with Finnish news outlet Helsingin Sanomat in Feb 2012 (and quoted on icethesite.com) wasn’t strictly speaking true.

“‘Just a demo of “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’. It is a good illustration of the process, by which the song came about.” he says.

That it is a series of demos is indisputably true as the studio chatter interspersed through the approximately eight minute attests, but that doesn’t diminish its value to long time fervent fans like myself. All the versions of this achingly sad song of nostalgic melancholy could have been songs in their own right, so beautifully developed are they. Even the version that open this medley, the first release of never-heard-before ABBA material since 1994’s Thank You For The Music box set, which co-opts the lyrics of well known children’s nursery rhyme, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (reflecting Benny and Bjorn’s penchant for nonsense lyrics when they were working to perfect the melody of a new song) is a thing of grace and beauty.

You can check out a more detailed discussion of what’s in the medley here

Far from being any sort of disappointment that the medley is not a true brand new track, like “I Am the City” was on More ABBA Gold in 1993, I feel privileged to be able to listen to the creative process Benny and Bjorn employed in their famed, and much discussed, pursuit of musical perfection. It is an insight that I didn’t think I would experience other than through the pages of a book, and each and every version of “Like an Angel Passing Through My Room” underscores how talented these two songwriters were, and are, and how vocally brilliant Agnetha and Frida were in realising their artistic visions.

As well as this beautiful one-of-a-kind medley, the deluxe version of The Visitors includes a wealth of extras from the digitally remastered versions of all the songs including one of my favourite ABBA tracks “Should I Laugh or Cry” which features a brief count-in previously only heard by those in the UK and South Africa who bought the single “One of Us” to rare goodies on the DVD including commercials for the album, and ABBA performances on the “Dick Cavett Meets ABBA” special in 1981 and ABBA performing in London in November 1982 on “The Late Late Breakfast Show”.

It’s the sort of material that I would likely never come across otherwise, and while I am not the sort of person to wallow wantonly in nostalgia, it has been an enormous treat to see ABBA in their heyday on my TV screen once again.

So was it worth spending six months in a lather of excitement for? Absolutely yes – the medley is a rare and precious look at the genius way ABBA went about creating their pop gems, the unreleased, or rarely seen video and song extras are a joy, and the booklet by ABBA archivist Carl Magnus Palm is as richly detailed as you’d expect. This first class release underscores that while you can never truly go back to your past, and if you’re like me, you wouldn’t want to, that visiting it, especially with releases of this calibre can be a special experience that you will want to relive again and again.

 

 

Road to Eurovision 2012: Week 4

It occurred on the way to writing this week’s instalment on the glittery yellow brick road to Eurovision that I hadn’t regaled you with even one solitary piece of Eurovision trivia, a glaring oversight when there are so many pages devoted to that very thing.

So to rectify such an egregious omission, here are five juicy tender morsels of Eurovision minutiae so compelling that you will want to memorise them and impress fellow guests at dinner parties between now and late May. I’m not kidding. You will.

Did you know?
* Ireland has won the most times. Yes, they have held aloft the Crystal Microphone a record obliterating seven times, including three times back to back in the 1990s, with Luxembourg, UK and France having won five times a piece.

* The First Time Lucky Award goes to Poland who came second on their debut in 1994 with Edyta Gorniak impressing with the song “To Nie Ja”.

* Morocco entered but once  in 1980 and no, it was not because they were not actually in Europe. (As Israel has demonstrated that is hardly an insurmountable barrier.) It was more to do with any real success on their one and only attempt to seize the pan-European singing crown.

* Norway, though it has been successful three times – most recently in 2009 when the cherubic Alexander Rybak boyishly swept all before him (they also won in 1985 and 1995) – has the dubious of finishing stone motherless last 10 times (1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997, 2001 and 2004).

Alexander Rybak emerging triumphant for Norway in 2009

* It’s no surprise that the majority of winners have sung in English (24) or French (14). But winners singing in either Dutch or Hebrew have stood upon the glittery dais not once but three times apiece.

You feel richer for knowing that already don’t you? So start memorising and somewhere in the middle of all that intense brain activity, you might want to fire up the stage lights, load up the glitter cannons and see what I thought of this week’s lucky six countries chances at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, Azerbaijan.

 

AUSTRIA: “Woki Mit Deim Popo” – Trackshittaz

 

 

Oh where to start! Where to start with this interesting duo who have picked the sort of name that will endear them to teenagers and impressionable young adults everywhere – who let’s face it are the majority of Eurovision voters these days – but will have their parents, and possibly the august members of the Jury whose votes play a part in their fate on the big night, reaching for the remote (or that hidden trap door located strategically somewhere on the stage).

But good folk of Eurovision-land I fear this is the least of this duo’s troubles. It’s not so much their sound which possesses a very streetwise hip-hop boyband vibe vaguely reminiscent of the group that brought “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”, The Offspring. (They apparently refer to it as “Tractor Gangsta Party Rap” which makes no sense at all but when has that ever got in the way of entering Eurovision?). Now while The Offspring have moved on from the 1990s, Trackshittaz have only just discovered it. I am guessing this hasn’t stopped becoming wildly popular in their native land but it does not bode well for future success in far flung climes, which I am presuming is their glorious intent.

The duo, which consists of Lukas Plochla alias “G- Neila”, and Manuel Hoffelner alias “Manix”, have done very nicely in Austria, if not Europe itself by releasing beats-heavy hip-hip that focuses on a life of partying and wait for this, living in villages. So yes, it seems that contrary to expectations they do indeed have raves in Austrian barns when the good burghers in charge aren’t looking.

Frankly I don’t think rapping about milking cows and throwing straw bales at startled sheep have the makings of Eurovision greatness so you would presume that the song which is sung in their native dialect veers away from these topics. Thankfully that appears to be the case as this excerpt from an interview with the duo confirms:

“When writing the text we realised that even though we kept the text in our local dialect, the song could also work in other countries because the topic is not too difficult ==> “Woki mit deim Popo” means “Come on, shake your booty”. The songs aim is to let people have a good time and to make them go to the middle of the dancefloor and shake their hips. Forget problems, have a good time!”

It is entirely possible that some Eurovision voters may decide to do just that but I don’t think there will be enough of them to propel this unique duo and their admittedly energetic, fun-loving song to Eurovision glory anytime soon.

 

 

SAN MARINO: “The Social Network Song (Oh Oh-Uh-Oh Oh)” – Valentina Monetta

 

 

Scandal! Yes small delightful inoffensive San Marino, a small state tucked away in the mountains near the east coast of northern Italy managed to create the closest thing that Eurovision manages to a headline grabbing scandal this year. In a brazen act of thumbing their nose at the rules, they submitted a song with a reference to commercial entities in it, which as one of the big four countries who pays for the bulk of this festival of glitz and glamour would no doubt point is verboten under the official entry rules.

Quickly leaping to enforce these rules – which make sense since if there was no restriction on brands being mentioned in songs, who knows what we’d end up with lyrically? Yes the lyrics could get worse – San Marino were given 10 days from March 14 to change the lyrics or get a new song entirely. They wisely chose the former since when you have written a world class song that will no doubt go No 1 all around the world and… ah who am I kidding? The five year old who wrote these lyrics originally was having a nap and they couldn’t walk her in time to write a whole new song.

So now we have the same singer, almost the same song and zero chance of making much of an impression. It’s not that the song is all bad. It’s a catchy dance number, and I was humming the melody all the way into work. It’s this melodic stickability which will no doubt carry it some way up the rankings since a catchy melody can cover a multitude of lyrical sins, and Valentina Monetta, the singer chosen internally by RTV, San Marino’s national broadcaster is bright, and engaging and a lot of fun to watch. She can certainly entertain and I found myself warming to her far more than I expected to.

But in the end, my friends, it is the song. It is always about the song (and the pyrotechnics and the key changes and the oddly inserted back up dancers and the…) and in this case, while the tune is poptastic bouncy fun, the lyrics are desperately cringe-worthy. The more I listen to them, the more I think that the now expunged commercial references were the least of San Marino’s issues.

 

 

 MOLDOVA: “Lautar” – Pasha Parfeny

 

 

Thank you Pasha Perfeny! Not only are you breathtakingly good looking with the sort of infectious smile that would melt the heart of the most hard-nosed of Eurovision voters, but you have brought folk back into Eurovision, where it once had a cosy much loved home, and have made it sexy again.

“Lautar” is purely and simply joyous boisterous fun. And you can tell within seconds of the song starting that Pasha, or Pavel as he was christened by his musician parents, has a real passion for singing and performing. You don’t get exuberant performances like this one from someone simply clocking in and hoping they sound vaguely in key. No, Pasha, as he is simply known to his many fans, is a man who loves what he does, and it is so refreshing to see that kind of unbridled happiness from someone, anyone really.

Obviously I am not the only one so entranced. Pasha has a shelf of trophies groaning under the weight of the baubles he has accumulated from his many wins, including Duet of the Year and Silver Lantrei Festivals in Bulgaria in 2007, and the 2009 International Music Festival Slavianski Bazar in Vitebsk in Belarus. So I am not along in my fulsome praise of this major talent although last I checked I don’t have a trophy to hand out alas. An old Coke can ring pull perhaps?

Thankfully Eurovision has a bright shiny crystal trophy that would look resplendent along all this other trophies, and while I can be certain he will win, he has to be in there with a real chance. That smile alone is worth douse pointes surely.

 

 

ESTONIA: “Kuula” – Ott Lepland

 

 

Speaking of passion, Ott Lepland has it in spades. Lots and lots of emotionally powerful spades. I am not usually a cheerleader for ballads, finding them only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, but this is one slow song so rich and deep and beautiful that it gave me goosebumps. Yes goosebumps.

What makes him so amazing to watch, besides his drop dead gorgeous good looks – and let’s not pretend for a moment that you weren’t all thinking the same thing – is his vocal precision. He lands on every note with pinpoint precision, never once coming close to sliding off key. It’s impressive any time but in front of a live audience, when so many singers, even the truly gifted ones can come royally unstuck (ending up as the subject of sundry ridiculing YouTube videos) is a rare gift.

But then he has had a lots of practice. A veteran of the music industry, having sung his heart out since he was but a child, he has won the Estonian version of Pop Idol, released four albums of childrens’ songs when he was smack bang in the same demographic as his target audience in the mid 1990s, and also released two albums as an adult, most recently in 2011.

So he has experience, he has passion, looks and snappy dress sense, and while ballads rarely catapult their delivered to the oxygen-starved heights of Eurovision fame, you can smack me with a large halibut fish and called me Martha if he doesn’t leap, passionately of course, into this year’s top ten finishers.

 

 

 

U.K.: “Love Will Set You Free” – Englebert Humperdinck

 

Oh dear Englebert. Your ridiculous name aside, which granted has, along with your stellar voice, and show business nous, given you a long and storied career, you are hampered into your attempt to bring glory to old Rule Brittania by a song which is as dreary as a bunch of socially awkward long-haired misfits trying to make conversation with those around them in the midst of unexpected tropical downpour.

Yes that dreary. The song doesn’t so much as run its course as trudge along miserably, convinced it can do better and everyone hates it anyway so why bother walking any faster or smiling? God knows he tries to invest it with some real emotion, and almost succeeds which is more testament to Englebert’s talent than any inherent virtues in the song itself.

You would have thought that after securing the services of such a show business legend, who while not in his musical prime can still sing with the sort of verve that powered his hits “Please Release Me” and “The Last Waltz” to the top of the charts, that you’d try to get him a song that didn’t sound like it took its pacing queues from molasses oozing down from the kitchen bench to the floor far below (the half-hearted key changes towards the end a limp attempt to inject some last minute verve failing miserably).

But that’s exactly how it feels. No scratch that. I think molasses moves faster than this dirge-like ode to lost love, and probably has more emotion invested too. Alas poor Englebert. Great name but this song will not be your ticket to an inspiring comeback.

At least he’s on first so he can at least get an early night which at 75 is no doubt an appealing prospect…

 

 

CROATIA: “Nebo” – Nina Babric

 

 

Nina, a former bank teller turned Croatian pop darling, has a deep and abiding love for billowing swathes of whit material. we know this because her official clip for this would-be captivating song is awash with it.

Alas what it isn’t awash with is real presence. It is pretty sure, and you can tell Nina is a talented lady (she wrote the song herself) because it does soar with something approaching emotional gravitas. She comes close and admittedly there is some abortive goose bump-inducement going on, but like Kim Kardashian’s marriage, it is short lived and doesn’t amount to much.

Even as I type this, I am already forgetting the song which frankly is not a good thing if what you want is a song that will lodge in the minds of eager voters, and demand at melodic knife point that it vote for Croatia and vote now dammit!

Lovely though she is, and earnest though she tries to be, I think that the best dear Nina can hope for is that voters sense a slightly more than apathetic urging to at least throw as nil pointe in there somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe.

Assuming they even remember she took to the stage which can’t be guaranteed (unless of course she becomes entangled in all that white material in which case she may stand a chance).

 

So who lulled you into a stupor this week? Or had you excited beyond belief? Let me know as soon as you awake from your song-induced coma, or come down from the ceiling once the excitement wears off.

The romantic aroma of old books

Admit it – you walk into a second hand bookstore and all you can smell is the delightful, or possibly, offensive smell of old books. As Richard Davies of worldwide online bookseller, abebooks.com, and an expert on rare books, explains in this information-filled video, old books have a distinctive smell and you will either love it or you will hate it. There doesn’t appear to be many people loitering in-between.

I love the smell. It reminds me of walking through libraries or flicking through the pages of books in my grandparents’ lounge room on many a languid summer’s day. To be honest though, I have never given much thought to why old books smell the way they do.

But Richard has it seems,and more importantly so have a bunch of chemists at the University College London who performed a range of tests, and found that , in Richard words, “many books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper.” While that may detract a little from the romantic notion of inhaling the scent of aging books, the lead scientist’s vivid description of the smell may win you back over. He described the smell as, and again I will quote Richard, “as a mix of grassy notes, with a tang of acids, a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”

While that sort of description may seem more apt for wine than an old book, it does conjure up much more vividly the delightful aromas of a second hand bookstore or library. Of course what’s even better than smelling the books, is reading them, or even better still, writing your own classics one day.

Which is exactly what I am trying to do. Write a book I mean… the vanilla and mustiness not so much.

Review: “Battleship”

I have long suffered from blockbuster phobia. Too many times I have believed the hype, bravely ventured into the popcorn strewn, choc top infested local multiplex only to find my hopes dashed on rocks so inane they feel like hollow tubes of polystyrene as they crush beneath me.

So burned once too many times, I have chosen of late to see indie movies, foreign language films and the odd overly solemn documentary, and by so doing, I have largely, but obviously not completely, avoided seeing too many movies that make me want to eat my brain from the inside out.

A stupidity addled brain at that after seeing one more of these cobbled together by committee flicks than I should have. But proving that hope springs eternal, and that you can’t believe everything you read (especially the reviews that said this movie was a cut above the usual blow-em-up, shoot-me-up nonsense; reviews that I suspect were written by a village idiots after a group outing to the Idiotland cinemaplex) I skipped into the cinema to see “battleship” convinced that this time, this blessed and holy time, my hopes would be vindicated.

They were not. In fact I daresay that “Battleship” (based on the Hasbro board game of the same name and the first in a hoped-for – by Hasbro, not me! – long line of board game-derived movies to come) which possessed all the originality of  a thousand cliches thrown into a blender and whizzed on high, has rendered any hope I had of seeing another blockbuster after this – “The Avengers” is circling with all the promise of a muscular man in a tight t-shirt with bedroom eyes ablaze at my favourite nightclub but I must resist its seductive appeal – a very remote possibility indeed.

But come you say, you must be skidding uncontrollably down the none-too-pleasant barbwire coated slopes of a sugar crash to be so damning of what is after all just a bright fun aliens-invade-we-fight-them-off extravaganza of which there have been many, and undoubtedly will be more. (We must be the most invaded planet in the galaxy; I have often pictured a queue of alien fleets waiting to invade somewhere out past Mars, eagerly anticipating their call up to blast us to bits… or at least try. Have they not rented a movie lately? It’s pointless guys – go back home and crochet or something instead.)

Honestly I tried to suspend disbelief. I honestly did. But my suspension of disbelief, done as I mentioned with all the fervour of newly converted believer who truly, desperately wants to believe despite all evidence to the contrary, was not enough.

Though suspended so far above my reasoning abilities that it was circling a distant star all its own, my willingness to look beyond any and all over the top silliness was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hokey dialogue (which unfortunately was self-parodied just the once when a geeky scientist meant the rallying cry of “Let’s see if we can give the earth one more day!” with “Who talks like that?”; alas he was a lone voice crying amid the noisy tumult of a blockbuster where no one can hear you scream), slapdash characterisation, and moments so preposterously ludicrous that they made the concept of an alien invasion seem entirely believable.

Taylor Kitsch plays Lt. Commander Alex Hopper who saves the day despite minimal training and poor acting

For instance let us consider the protagonist of this movie – who contrary to the usual rule of thumb that the people who survive alien invasions have a dog with them at all times – one Lieutenant Commander Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch who possesses fine abs but all the acting skills of a poorly constructed IKEA chair) who magically goes from a Loser, who steals a chicken burrito from a convenience store for a girl he meets in a bar (who later becomes his girlfriend somewhat bizarrely in a move that reflects poorly on both of them) to innately talented military strategist without blinking. Any moments he doubts that he can see the aliens off are vanquished quickly and easily, and you know that he rises to the occasion because of his DNA which is coursing with the noble intelligence of his older brother, Captain Stone Hooper (Alexander Skarsgard) whose utter perfection in all things is emphasised repeatedly with all the subtleness of a sledgehammer coming down on an undersized walnut.

Naturally of course his fiancee, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) who by some miracle manages to avoid looking like a completely helpless woman no thanks to the script, and who loves him even before his battle-hardened rise to greatness and the inevitable proving of his potential, is the Admiral’s daughter (the head of the navy being played by Liam Neeson who really should have known better). She also happens to be on the exact mountain where a communications array which punched out the welcome message into the galaxy which brought the reptilian aliens here is located and of course is integral to the salvation of the planet, along with a bitter Army veteran Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (Gregory D Gadson) who redeems himself in battle. Where else would he does this I ask (somewhat sarcastically)? (Interestingly the only one acquits herself with any degree of distinction is Rhianna, playing weapons office Raikes, who bring some spunk and sass to a role which could have too easily tipped over into caricature.)

Rihanna who plays weapons office Raikes shows those technologically superior aliens who's boss

Yes, yes I hear you say. But it’s an overblown blockbuster! Utterly unbelievable contrivances, actions that not only mock the laws of nature but plunge a dagger , and part of these sort of Hollywood spectacles, and it is curmudgeonly of you indeed to berate this overgrown seething mass of cliches for being what it is.

And I hear you. You’re right. Just like romantic comedies follow the same predictable path from the “Meet Cute” to the growing relationship which founders briefly before being rescued in the nick of time, usually at an airport, so these action adventures have their own inevitable course which must be followed come what may.

Or do they? It is possible to inject intelligence, wit and a thoroughly substantial sensibility into these sorts of movies if you want to be something other than a garish tent pole flick. “Alien”, and “The Lord of the Rings” proved that spectacle and a sprawling grand adventure are not inimical to movies that can impress and engage your mind and your ooh-aah reflex all at the same time.

“Battleship” does none of this and despite it’s attempts to come across as the love child of “Top Gun” and Independence Day”, it simply runs through the same old tired routines that we have seen a thousand times bringing nothing but a sense of jaded fatigue and an unhealthy dose of stupidity to the table.

 

 

Sonic Bliss #6: My favourite songs of the week

So much music that my small and dainty ears cannot possibly accommodate it all. Or can they? I say a resounding yes and so, here is this week’s pick of the new music that has danced its way into my mind, and if I wanted to go all Hallmark syrupy on you, I would say my heart.

But for the sake of everyone’s stomachs, let’s stop at mind shall we?

Bigger Hoops (Bigger the Better) – Nelly Furtado

 

 

Nelly Furtado, who redefined sultry, dare I say even, sexy dance floor urban R & B with her stellar release “Loose” way back in the dim dark days of 2006, is back with her take on the dance sound that is all over today’s charts.

And you know what? She succeeds brilliantly. The song is every inch a Nelly Furtado release (despite some allegations she has merged with Rihanna in some weird Caribbean Portugese diva hybrid, and comes off as second best in the merged entity) and it is such sweet relief that she hasn’t tried to ape anyone but her own good self. The song is topped and tailed by the pounding repetition of “the bigger the better the bigger the better” and Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins production lends the song a gritty urban edge that rips and tears up and down the song like a melodic chainsaw on overdrive.

And Ms Furtado, fresh from marrying, having a child, and making a splash with some Spanish language recordings, has a whole heap of fun with this song. Just when you think it is winding down to a hot and bothered conclusion, it simply stops dead, Nelly announces “I thought this song was over. Nah. It ain’t over yet”, giggles, before the song roars back like a frenzied ninja wielding numb chucks , speeding up to such a pace that you swear you’ll get whiplash as it races on by. It underscores what a deliciously perfect piece of pop this song is, and if it is any indication of what awaits us on the new album The Spirit Indestructible (out June 15), Loose may find it has a dazzling new sibling to keep it company.

 

 

“Every Single Night” – Fiona Apple

 

 

Fiona Apple is one of those true artists who isn’t afraid to wear not just her heart on her sleeve but every last scintilla of emotional angst and intellectual struggle. She doesn’t shy from it all and in fact, if the lyrics to the song are any guide, she positively revels in the chance to wrestle with her creative demons for all the world to see.

Every single night
I endure the flight
Of little wings of white-flamed
Butterflies in my brain
These ideas of mine
Percolate the mind
Trickle down the spine
Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze
That’s when the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Trying to fit beneath the skin
I can’t fit the feelins in
Every single night’s alright with my brain

The elegant, poetic lyrics vividly portray the agony and ecstasy of the act of creation when ideas lunge and fall back, threatening to burst forth fully formed before falling back as stunted, yet-to-be-realised-embryos. It is as poetic, and accurate, a description of what every creative person, including myself, goes through, with the lyrics skillfully married to a lilting, winsome melody that uses a music box fragile chimes as its anchor.

The delicate-as-glass melody is a perfect counterpoint to the weighty part-anguished, part-joyfully resigned words and Fiona’s voice, which surges powerfully before falling back to a strangled whisper matches the emotional tenor of the song beautifully.

It was a long seven year wait but clearly Fiona has used it to devastatingly impactful effect and it bodes well for her forthcoming album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do (out June 19)

 

 

“Night and Day” – Hot Chip

 

 

This is the first official single from their forthcoming album, In Our Heads (out June 12 – yep June is shaping up as a very busy month!) and it is bouncing piece of electronic indie pop that will have you tapping your feet so furiously they may well fall off. OK that may be a small overstatement but it is very catchy music with lyrics that seem to centre on the delight of, ahem, being with a special woman.

Hot Chip, who last released music in 2009 have struck that perfect balance between powerful knock-your-socks-off dance music that insistently draws and tugs at you. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, and as I said, dismember feet with.

You have been warned.

 

 

“Can’t Believe You Said That” – Gemini Club

 

 

These three guys from Chicago – Dan Brunelle, Tom Gavin and Gordon Bramli (just in case you ever meet them at a party and don’t want to look stupid because you can’t remember their names; you’re welcome!) – are that rare thing for someone like me who listens to lots of music – astonishingly, deliriously one-of-a-kind, and unlike anything else I have heard in a long time.

Technically an indie electro-pop band, their songs which are refreshingly different to begin with, are remixed every night they perform using a custom made rig which allows them to fiddle with the song to their heart’s content as the concert progresses. It has made them insanely popular and you can see why in this song.

Like many of Gemini Club’s songs, it bears a rich contagious melody, a slightly discordant 60s-inspired glitchy beat and the irresistible drive towards somewhere wonderful. It bounces along with a joyful abandon that many songs attempt but never truly realise, and coupled with the boys’ spiffy suited attire, makes them the sort of band you will be paying a great deal of attention to over and over again.

It’s already started – I cannot stop listening to this song which is successfully managing to crowd the host of other songs begging for my attention right now.

 

 

“Together in Electric Dreams” – Wolfette

 

 

This talented lady, who goes by the pithy and evocative one word sobriquet of Wolfette – her driver’s license lists her a little more prosaically as Dominique Woolf, reputedly a distant relative of Virginia Woolf – knows her way around a synth and how to use it to create imaginative, memorable electropop.

Her latest single, “Risk For You” is just out and is a rich lush serve of electropop goodness. But it’s her cover of Georgio Moroder’s “Together in Electric Dreams” which has truly captured my attention. She has managed a delightfully fresh take on this song, originally created by two legends, the aforementioned, highly regarded Georgio Moroder and Philip Oakey of The Human League, and it is a more than worthy homage to an era she regards so highly and clearly draws inspiration from.

But what is so impressive about this talented artist, who filmed the clip for this song on her phone, her 1000 watt smiles showing just how much fun she was having filming it, is that she takes these influences and makes them her own. Not many artists manage that and remain hostage to the very musical antecedents they revere so much.

But not Wolfette, who is fresh, different, creating electropop that is a cut above much of the music crashing around the internet today. She deserves to do very well, and with her track record so far, I think it’s as inevitable as me needing to dance very time I hear her outrageously catchy music.

 

 

So there you have it! More sonic bliss to feed your inner earworm with – let me know which song gets stuck in your brian and won’t let go!

The return of “Arrested Development”

Arrested Development, a clever, literate sitcom created by Mitchell Hurwitz which featured the dysfunctional travails of the once wealthy Bluth family and ran from 2003-2006 is back from the dead!

It was a critical darling from the moment it was broadcast into peoples’ living rooms, but alas, though it was insanely funny, with perfectly formed characters and the wittiest dialogue I had heard in any show, it failed to capture the imagination of the public, and eventually succumbed to ratings that never really matched the ardour of its media champions.

So it is wonderful news that it is to be resurrected by the same production team, and in a miracle that dwarfs all before it, given how hard it is to get actors with competing schedules in the same room for lunch let along to produce multiple episodes of a show, will star the original cast.

Under the development deal with Netflix, a video streaming service which is keen to develop it’s now original content, in addition to making the content of other outlets available on its service, the show will return for 10 episodes in early 2013. In a move that is being hailed as bold and visionary, the episodes will all be released on the same day, further changing the distribution model for media and potentially putting another nail in the coffin of the current TV release schedule.

Netflix has done this before with the mobster drama Lilyhammer. It isn’t willing to release viewing figures of that show but it must have done reasonably well because they will be releasing a second series. It is also producing and releasing new shows like House of Cards, Hemlock Grove and Orange is the New Black, all of which may follow the same model.

The difference is that Arrested Development, unlike these new shows, comes with a built-in ardent fan base who have been agitating via the internet for some time for the show’s return. If ever there was a show that would cement Netflix’s move into original programming, it’s this show.

Michael Hurwitz has confirmed that he would be willing to do further series of the show via this new model. While Netflix hasn’t confirmed that it plans to go into original programming as a permanent model, the odds are good that the success of shows like Arrested Development will mean that this experiment, inspired by the tsunami-like wave of people moving to watch their TV entertainment online, could well become the way all programs fare delivered in the future.

As a fan of this show, and someone who wishes more shows could available instantly via  download model, I will certainly be praying to all the TV gods I can find that this is the case.

Here’s a clip of highlights from the show set to “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger:

 

 

Road to Eurovision 2012: Week 3

Yes it’s time to review this week’s crop of Eurovision hopefuls and what have I gone and done? Left my Ukrainian grandmother at home! Now she won’t be able to burst into the blog post at a completely unexpected moment and dazzle you all with her totally surplus-to-requirements writing (much like when she dashes into Eurovision song entries mid way through).

No matter. I will soldier on, try a totally unexpected key change or two and perhaps throw in a blindingly bright moment of pyrotechnics when none is required! (Which let’s face it is pretty much never this being a blog and all.)

Onwards and upwards to kitsch and beyond!

 

LITHUANIA: “Love is Blind” – Donny Montell

 

 

Here it is at last! The song I have been waiting for and so far in my quest into the very heart of Eurovision 2012 songdom it had cruelly eluded me.

The overwrought song of heartache, longing and loss. Every Eurovision Song Contest has them although what they’re doing in an event celebrating the joyous coming together of people is still a mystery to me. Regardless, Lithuania has decided in its Baltic wisdom that this is the song that will represent them, and on a first listen, it has everything that a Eurovision voter would like in a song.

It’s passionate. Its heartfelt. It starts off slowly – while Donny Montell, a singer songwriter whose father was in a heavy rock band back in the day, is wearing a blindfold no less just in case the deep meaning of the song title eludes you – and builds to a bouncy mid tempo beat that had the audience hooting and hollering with unalloyed fervour.

While I am huge fan of Lithuania in general, and this song does have its merits, I fear that though he is good looking (once the blindfold falls off midway through the song) and emotes in the grandest tradition of Eurovision lovelorn chanteurs with a fervour that makes you believe he was dumped mere moments before going on stage (how could she do that to him?!), his unremarkable voice, and the rather ordinary beat, lets him down.

 

 

 

FRANCE : “You and I” – Anggun

 

 

Oh my lord this is catchy! If there is any justice at all in this world, Anggun representing La France will finally leap, nay  vault with élan and grace (for that is how France acts at all times naturellement) to the top of the Eurovision pack, clutching multiple douze pointes in her perfectly manicured hands.

Helping this talented Indonesian-born, French-naturalised singer with an illustrious pop career behind her along are some of the most insistent trance-influenced beats to infect a dance floor. The song is punctuated by militaristic whistling that lends an already beats-fuelled song even more melodic urgency.

I am also desperately hoping that Anggun, who is one of the most talented singers I have seen front for Eurovision in many a long glitter-infested day, brings the gorgeous men who are peppered through the official clip like candy at a five year old’s birthday party.

The big surprise is that France has gone down the super dance pop route this year. Normally they put forward a charming opera or classical singer who puts her heart into a ballad of stunning beauty that everyone… routinely ignores. It’s a pity since the songs are usually beautiful and impeccably produced. But tired, I am guessing, of being ignored, France has poured this commitment to excellence into a pounding dance number, a move that I suspect will mean they are the wall flower of Eurovision no more.

 

 

 

AZERBAIJAN: “When the Music Dies” – Sabina Babyeva

 

 

When it does what? Is this the best song to pick when you’re representing the hopes and dreams of all your countrymen and women who are beyond proud that your hitherto barely noticed country has the honour of hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest?

I would think it’s the show business equivalent of a jinx? Perhaps but it seems to trouble Sabina Babayeva, a veteran of song contests it seems, not one little bit. She clearly invests her heart and soul into this beautiful ballad of love gone wrong, her powerful voice conveying perfectly the anguish of love lost.

But this draws me back to my point about Lithuania’s entry. Is Eurovision really the place to work out your pain about love gone pear-shaped? Surely a therapist would be cheaper and a whole lot more private? Of course it would be, but if you did that there would be no chance to over emote till the good people of Eurovision voting land rush to you, insisting you accept their douze pointes soaked in the tears they have shed listening to you.

This song has every chance in the world to make an impression. It’s well-written, exquisitely sung by an artist who is clearly a graduate of the Azaf Zeynally School of Music and knows how to use her vocal instrument to goosebump-inducing effect, and has all the passion we expect in a Eurovision ballad.

Now if we can just get her to a good therapist…

 

 

 

FINLAND: “Nar Jag Blundar” – Pernilla Karlsson

 

 

This is a beautiful song and as I have belatedly discovered Finnish sounds intensely moving what sounds to me, musically at least, like a tale of regret and sadness. Whether it is I don’t know as the time to consult a Finnish to English dictionary escapes me at the time of writing.

But the music alone sounds like there is something sad and melancholic lurking around the back blocks of Pernilla’s otherwise sunny world. And shouldn’t she be brimming with all the sunshine in the world? She’s 22, she has the world at her feet and is representing her country in Eurovision?

So if in fact her song is a mopefest of epic proportions, then I’d say to her – your voice is a thing of almost Kate Bush-esque angelic beauty and the song will no doubt carry you across the threshold held aloft by gently weeping Eurovision voters. Weep no more!

But that does remind me – what is it with all the crying this year?

 

 

RUSSIA: “Party For Everybody” – Buranovskiye Babushki

 

 

Forget my Ukrainian grandmother! Who needs her? (By the way for those thinking that I am being overly callous about a much loved aged relative, my grandmother is, in reality, as Caucasian as they come.) For now I have Russian grandmothers and not just any Russian grandmothers either!

No they are as unique as they come. These adorable ladies, who sing for the most part in their native Udmurt tongue (which makes sense given that they live in the Udmurt Republic east of Moscow) and only entered Eurovision to build their profile so they could raise enough money to build their village church which was demolish during the Soviet era.

Ranging in age from 43 to 86, according to the official Eurovision 2012 profile, they are surprisingly spry on stage and their song which was written with an unnamed mysterious British person is a jaunty folk-influenced mid tempo number that is so memorable I am still trying to stop it from bouncing around my mind like a hummingbird on a pogo stick.

Oh and since they have already have more than enough grandmothers in their outfit, I hope they have the presence of mind to bring a totally unnecessary young male dancer into their act midway though for no apparent reason. It makes sense right?

 

 

NETHERLANDS: “You and Me” – Joan Franka

 

 

Frankly Joan Franka could be singing in Urdu dancing naked with red-tie dyed chickens and a drunken parade of surfs congo-lining behind her and all I would notice was the Native American headdress.

OK it’s possible I’d notice the nakedness. And the chickens. It’s hard to ignore red chickens. But front and centre would be that headdress which though it has tenuous connection to a song mourning the loss of a childhood friendship she thought would be around forever, is all I can remember of the song.

Oh yes the song. It’s a sweet inoffensive piece of quirky folk pop that the Dutch seem to love. Well, most of the Dutch anyway. Joan, who came to prominence if you can call it that as a contestant on a singing talent show called Voice of Holland in 2010 when she was eliminated before reaching the finals, almost faced the same fate with Eurovision when she came last with a jury vote of just 11. However the voting public, clearly mesmerised by the headdress loved her and gave her trippy 60s-era folk a hearty 26 and the win.

Apparently she has every intention of keeping the headdress and the backup drummers and dancers for Eurovision proper. Well for the semi-finals at least because it’s doubtful she will make it into the finals if the public’s treatment of idiosyncratic guitar folk in year’s past is any guide. It’s a shame in one way because it’s the quirky and the odd that make Eurovision so much fun to watch and those sort of acts are scarce on the ground these days.

Of course if she got those red chickens then she’d be a shoo-in, trust me.

 

 

So what will it be? The headdress or the Babushki from Udmurt? Decisions, decisions…

The high cost of being Eurovision fabulous

Ever since ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with the aid of an upbeat pop song “Waterloo”, the dulcet tones of Agnetha and Annifrid, and the tightest lycra pants known to man, the contest has been widely seen by the artists who participate in it as the perfect leg-up to a life of, if not international, then at least pan-European stardom.

But spare a thought for the country that sent that winning artist to sing and stand triumphant on a glitter-covered stage. They are not normally celebrating quite as enthusiastically.

National pride aside, and as Germany demonstrated when Lena won in 2010 with the oh-so catchy song “Satellite”, that can be considerable – the national broadcaster cancelled its normal schedule to telecast her triumphant return home to scenes of wild adulation by her countrymen – a win by your country’s designated representative automatically means you host the event in the following year.

ABBA are one of the few bands to pluck lasting success from the temporary shimmer of Eurovision glory

Money, Money, Money
And the costs for that can be considerable. Norway’s national broadcaster NRK was rumoured to have spent 25-30 million Euros hosting the event in 2010, reputedly having to sell their rights to telecast the World Cup to finance it while Russia spent at least reportedly shelled out about 35 million Euros or so to throw its grand Eurovision bash in 2008. This year’s hosts, oil-rich Azerbaijan have raised the stakes even higher, spending $100 million to broadcast the two semi-finals and the glittering grand final over three nights, a figure that doesn’t even take into account the price ticket for the stadium that was purpose built for the event.

That kind of money is no issue for Azerbaijan which is awash in bounteous revenues flowing from their burgeoning oil industry. But what if you don’t have that sort of money to spend and let’s face it, with its position at the epicentre of the Global Financial Centre and the crippling recession that has followed it, few countries in Europe do?

Try not to win at all?
The sensible option of course is not to win the contest in the first place, and it’s long been alleged that the less than professional quality of many countries’ entries has less to do with a paucity of homegrown talent – an idea without much merit given the robust music scenes in almost European countries – than with their desire to be as far away from the awarding of Douze Pointe (12 points), which is the highest score than can be awarded by voters, as possible.

Dustin the Turkey singing Douze Pointe in the hope of garnering points from Eurovision pointers that were nothing of the kind

If this is in fact the strategy many countries have adopted, it would explain why Ireland, who won the event three times in a row in the 1990s (1992, 1993, 1994, the most consecutive wins by any country in the history of the contest) entered a puppet, Dustin the Turkey, as their official entrant in 2008 with a song ironically titled “Douze Pointe.” That is one song title you can definitely say was not aspirational.

Ireland’s reluctance to win, all anecdotal rumours and conspiracy theories aside, is understandable. It has been long said that the cost of staging three events in the early to mid 1990s almost bankrupted RTE the national broadcaster. And this was before Denmark upped the ante in 2000 by staging the event in a stadium filled with 39,000 people where previously a large studio had been deemed more than sufficient, significantly increasing the cost for all successive hosts as a Eurovision “arms race” was launched to make each year bigger and brighter than the last.

But while there’s no doubt that host that many Eurovision finals put a strain on RTE, the burden was not quite as apocalyptic as claimed.  Even so, the cost for smaller countries was such an imposte that the funding rules were changed so that by 2004 the host broadcaster was only paying, by the estimation of RTE’s then commissioning editor, Dennis Lenihan, a third to a half of the final bill.

Interviewed on BBC Worldwide’s The Music Biz programme, and quoted on the BBC News website titled “The price of Eurovision victory”, Lenihan explained the way the new funding arrangements work:

“The bigger broadcasters now are really the ones who are paying a bigger whack of the budget than heretofore, and the big four – Germany, the UK, France and Spain – carry a significant amount of the budget.

“It’s a big expensive show but probably, in relative terms, it’s not as heavy a burden on the host broadcaster as it would have been 10 years ago.”

The times they are a-changin’
So fortunately winning Europe’s premier musical contest is not as financially burdensome as it once was. But it can still put a big hole in a public broadcaster’s budget, even with the revenue from broadcast fees and ticket sales so broadcasters are increasingly taking advantage of new opportunities being offered to them by would-be commercial partners eager to get some of the kitschy glamour for themselves.

One route that is becoming increasingly popular is for the host broadcaster to jump into bed, so to speak, with sponsors. These companies use the events to trial new technologies and of course to get priceless exposure to an audience that consists largely of new media-acquisitive young people, all of whom sit squarely in the demographic so beloved of media companies. Lenihan underlined that having these technical companies come aboard was a win-win for all concerned and helped defray the costs of broadcasting the event considerably.

“A lot of companies at the time saw it as an opportunity to show a whole range of new technical innovations that were coming in. So we actually did get a lot of support from these companies that didn’t cost us an awful lot of money.”

Lena holds the Eurovision trophy, the Crystal Microphone, aloft after her victory in 2010. Meanwhile German broadcasting officials were wondering how they would afford their hosting duties the following year

The other strategy, which Germany’s coalition of publicly owned broadcasters, ARD used when it hosted Eurovision in 2011, is to partner with a commercial counterpart and defray the costs. Their partnership with private broadcaster ProSieben was by all accounts a smashing success. ARD didn’t have to tighten its belt anywhere near as much as expected, it still got the kudos for hosting a lavish ceremony, and garnered 61.6% of the viewing audience (including those highly desirable younger viewers who had been deserting it in droves up to that point) and ProSieben were able to attract the bask in the glow of Eurovision glory by association with the added benefit that they got one up on their rivals at RTL.

Money doesn’t make everyone’s world go round
But for some countries, the win is not seen in commercial terms. While they realise it will be an expensive undertaking to stage Eurovision, they rationalise that the exposure it will give them will more than make up for the money they will have to outlay.

Certainly this was Estonia’s attitude when it won Eurovision in 2001, thanks to Dave Benton and Tanel Pader’s victory with the song “Everybody”. It decided that staging the contest in 2002 was a more than worthy use of its entire tourism budget and used its stint as host to showcase a modern well-developed country that had emerged successfully from the wreckage of the USSR. For the Estonians the cost was more than worth it given the exposure it gave them to Europe, and indeed the world.

Dennis Lenihan backs the worth of Eurovision as a booster for national pride. He says that contrary to reports that RTE had to gut its entire light entertainment budget to pay for Europe’s musical night of nights, that RTE had survived its unprecedented three years in a row of hosting, and moreover, that Ireland had gained more from eager visitors wanting to embrace the delights of the Emerald Isle that it had outlaid to bring Eurovision to the world.

Azerbaijan's impressive Crystal Hall, which will host this year's Eurovision Song Contest, is vying for a glory all of its own

So it seems for the most part that far from being the anteroom to a life of everlasting financial hell, that hosting the Eurovision Song Contest doesn’t have to cost the earth – although Azerbaijan seems intent on trying to go at least partway to that point – and can bring added intangible benefits such as a boost to national pride and valuable exposure to hopefully would-be eager visitors.

Oh, and more leftover lycra and Ukrainian grandmothers that you know what to do with.

 

I love my Scandinavian pop! 3

The siren song of Scandinavia has seduced me again and I cannot hold off bringing more of the talented artists from northern Europe.

My love affair with all things Scandipop began innocently enough back in the, ahem, 1970s when ABBA burst onto the scene and I fell completely head over heels in love with the best music I had ever heard. While ABBA are wholly unique and crafted the most sublime perfect pop I ever had the good fortune to hear, they were the inheritors and also the forebears of a gloriously rich music tradition that continues to this day with so many richly talented artists.

 

Yes I manage to get a picture of ABBA into yet another blog post!

 

What I didn’t expect when I began to research this series was just how broad and deep the spectrum of artists would be. I knew from ABBA, Robyn, Annie and a number of other artists that I love that the Scandinavians have a particular knack for taking melodies that are simultaneously bubblegum happy and achingly introspective and marrying them with clever relatable lyrics that are refreshingly honest about the highs and lows of the human condition and beats that can be either dance floor fast or sitting-by-a-fire-at-am slow into winning irresistible songs. But that so many of them were doing it so consistently and well? That was a joyful surprise and a gift that keeps on giving and giving.

It’s a discovery that you must make for yourselves if your enjoyment of music is to have any real depth so to help you along here’s my latest selection of pop gems from my beloved Scandinavians…

 

JJ

 

 

This is seriously hardcore dreamy music. Sound like a contradiction in terms? Not at all. It makes sense when you listen to this band’s music which wafts with elegance and beauty but never pointlessly or without backbone. It is ambient music yes but infused with all manner of global influences like hip hop and possessing what one reviewer has dubbed “swagger” (Pitchfork). As idiosyncratic as they come, they take great delight in blurring the line between genres and making gorgeous music that defies all preconceptions.

This goes for their publicity too. Notoriously media-averse, they seem to prefer to let their music speak for them. In age of media saturation, augmented by instant access via social media, this is all the more remarkable. But is hasn’t affected their popularity at all with the band, composed of JoakimBenon and Elin Kastlander finding success in the notoriously competitive and fickle U.S. market as well their native Sweden, and Europe.

 

 

MR LITTLE JEANS

 

 

Contrary to the name she has picked to represent her on the world stage, Monica Birkenes, citizen of Sweden, and most definitely a woman, is not in fact a man. You may be thinking oh yet another quirky as a mad squirrel in the depths of winter Scandinavian pop goddess, but the delightful thing about Ms Birkenes is that, like Robyn before her, she has a boatload of commercial sensibility to go along with that idiosyncratic outlook.

So what you get is literate pop that drives you to the dance floor. It is ethereally beautiful at times too and her voice, which is all sweetness and light is more than a match for the punning beats that power a number of her songs. She also writes all her won songs, helps produce them, overseeing the recording of her excellent album, “Stones in the Attic.”

With an ear for a gorgeous melody, an intelligent lyric and the ability to meld them into a wondrous slice of pop, Mr Little Jeans is an artist with a very bright slap-on-your-sunglasses-to-avoid-the-glare future.

 

 

 

SYS BJERRE

 

 

Proving that English is not always the language of pop, this Danish artist, who hit the big time with her massive hit Malene, sings in her mother tongue (with the occasional English phrase thrown in) and crafts a beguiling album that bounces along like a bright sunny summer’s day, stopping for the occasional wistful ballad on the way.

Her music is full of guitar licks, and lightly pounding drums and a surprising ballsiness to go along with the happy pop. The alluded to rock overtones signal that she is not interested in simply producing bubblegum pop that vaporises before it even hits the airwaves. Her music has substance and she’s clearly found her own voice, happy to make upbeat pop but pop that is remarkable enough that you will be humming her songs even when the iPod has been packed away for the night.

And yes if you’re anything like me you will find yourself singing along in Danish in no time flat…

 

 

 

ANNA TERNHEIM

 

 

What a talented lady! She’s a singer-songwriter from Sweden who began her first band while she was living in Atlanta, Georgia, USA for a year. Moving back to Sweden she released a couple of EPs in 2003 before the release of her first full-length album in 2004, “Somebody Outside”. She followed that up with her breakthrough album, “Separation Road” in 2006 which established Anna as a talent to watch.

She hasn’t disappointed yet. Her most recent release, “The Night Visitor”, released in 2011 continues to reflect the evolution of a sound grounded in her sparse crystal clear melodies, and haunting emotive vocals. Much of her music is a gorgeous mix of meditative ballads but, and this is coming from someone with a hearty resistance to slow boring ballads, they are never the sort of songs you simply leave on in the background as aural wallpaper.

They are rather the sort of songs you want to linger in, immerse yourself in and soak up, willing the most beautiful pieces to never end. She has a rare gift for conjuring the most poignant of emotions in songs that never bore and certainly don’t outstay their welcome.

 

 

JONAS OAKLAND

 

Awesomely down and dirty dance floor friendly electro pop. OK “friendly” is too tame a word for this unsigned artist’s catchy music. His songs don’t so much as chat to the dance floor in an amiable manner as dirty dance with it before leaving the club at 3 a.m. together for his home. Jonas looks every inch the pop star, and while he hasn’t released a full album yet, he has released six singles starting in 2008, with his newest effort, “Who’s That Boy?” (ah, a man after my own heart!) a dizzyingly infectious song if ever there was one.

FizzyPop!! said it perfectly when they reviewed “Who’s That Boy?” –

“Set over some luscious piano and a percolating beat, Jonas’ vocal sweetly glides over the music creating an engaging story telling world. It’s all quite pure pop until a more trippy, off-kilter beat & electro enhanced chorus provides a juxtaposition of sound that mirrors the intriguing lyrical hook of ‘who’s that boy on the dance floor’… Fascinating, intensive, addictive.”

A resident of Stockholm, Sweden, I can’t see how he won’t get signed by a major label and very soon. He has pop greatness written all over his very cute face.

 

 

This is not the end of it! I keep discovering more and more artists like Andreas Lundstet who has a powerful driving voice you have to hear to believe. But more on him next time. In the meantime, enjoy these tasty morsels of Scandipop!