Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 6 – Norway, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, The Netherlands + Russia

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

NORWAY: “Grab the Moment” by JOWST

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Norway flag

 

THE ARTIST
To be honest, crowdsourcing is the not the first thing that leaps to mind when you think of taking part in Eurovision.

But that is exactly what sound engineer, producer and teacher (and rampant multitasker) JOWST aka Joakim With Steen did when he was chosen to represent Norway.

Taking his abiding interest in punk rock and songwriting, JOWST gave his friends input via a Facebook group into the creation of his song “Grab the Moment”, the vocals for which are provided by Aleksander Walmann who, it seems, crowdsourced not a damn thing, concentrating instead on singing up a storm on The Voice (2012), and working with other Norwegian artists such as Sondre Lerche.

The question after all this checking and counter-checking with those nearest and dearest to him is whether this “it takes a village” approach has resulted in the kind of song that will reward JOWST’s continued quest to push himself?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Astonishingly yes.

I am not usually a fan of creativity by committee but in this instance, it’s worked a treat with “Grab the Moment” which comes across as a wholly engaging, fun jaunty number that bounces with the sort of irrepressible zest that will leave a smile on your face.

There are some tasty vocal flourishes all the way through courtesy of Aleksander and a whole lot of distorted, building buzz through the bridge which adds a little extra frission to a song which, while not out-of-the-box extraordinary, is definitely memorable, hummable and as danceable as they come.

Throw in a catchy stage performance and this could give Norway a real shot of making it to the grand final (although I suspect the song may not quite robust enough to garner a win).

 

 

ROMANIA: “Yodel It!” by Ilinca ft. Alex Florea

 

 

THE ARTIST
Ilinca and Alex, both of whom come from fairly impressive musical backgrounds, are by their own submission, “happy people”.

And why wouldn’t they be? They love music, have fun singing and performing and they have both been given invaluable opportunities to do something with their talent.

While Ilinca has found musical fame through programs like X Factor (she was part of a four piece girl band at the tender age of 14) and The Voice of Romania, where she reached the semi finals thank you very much, Alex has studied at music schools, first at the Popular Arts School and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts (Theatre) where he is completing a Masters.

They may have taken completely different routes to arrive at the point where they’re Romania’s entrants at Eurovision this year, but the end result is one full of ‘good energy”, “positive vibes” and “the sheer joy of being on stage”.

But will all this blissful bonhomie, the cumulative effect of which makes Tony Robbins look like Eeyore on a bad day, be enough to make the people of Europe vote for the perky Romanians en masse?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
At first blush, you may not think so, especially when you discover that Ilinca is a yodeler, a skill which to be honest isn’t exactly the hippest of sounds around.

The funny thing is “Yodel it!” (yeah OK that also gives the game away) is a ridiculous amount of fun.

It’s not necessarily the sort of song that will win the contest, and it is pretty cheesy, but damn if it isn’t a barnburning, backslapping piece of silly, catchy ridiculousness that somehow works.

Not enough to get them out of the second semi final, but won’t we have fun yodelling ourselves through one of the few songs in this year’s roster that actually has some personality and a willingness to go there.

Granted, “there” is not the winner’s podium, but who the hell cares – well beside Ilinca and Alex who probably care a bit – when the journey is so much over the top, bombastic fun?

 

 

SAN MARINO: “Spirit of the Night” by Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 week 3 San Marino flag

 

THE ARTIST
Valentina Monetta’s bio trumpets the fact from the glitter-saturated rafters that she is back!

But really when you’ve represented your country three times already (2012, 2013, 2014), can you really be considered to have actually gone away?

The jazz and funk singer, who has worked with a wide variety of musicians in Italy and Europe, and is currently performing with her band, Myfunky Valetine, has represented San Marino 50% of the time since they first competed in 2008 (they missed 2009 and 2010); this time, however, shas teamed up woth Jimmie Wilson, an American living in Germany, who is best known for performing in a series of musicals including Michael Jackson’s Sisterella.

So Valentina is back, Jimmie is here for the first time but together will they deliver that magic x factor that could catapult San Marino into the grand final and beyond, and justify Vanetina’s near constant state of Eurovision-ness?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
“Spirit of the Night” may not be the song to do it.

Sure it’s brimming with a bright, shiny retro ’70s vibe, that is equal parts cheesy disco and sultry Barry White R&B, and both Monetta and Wilson seem to be having a ball, but somehow it all comes together in a song that sounds like it’s trying really hard and getting absolutely nowhere.

There’s lots of colour and movement but it ultimately sounds tinny and hollow, with the chorus particularly leaching out the glittering promise, such as it is, of the verses.

It’s as cliched and been there, done that as they come and will likely sink like a stone, marking yet another time San Marino has failed to qualify for the grand final.

 

 

SERBIA: “In Too Deep” by Tijana Bogićević

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Serbia flag

 

THE ARTIST
Tijana may have once had a touch of Twenty Feet From Stardom syndrome – she started out as a backing vocalist for Vlado Georgiev back in 2001 – but she has now well and truly found her place at the front of the stage thanks to her massive 2010 breakout hit “Tražim (Searching)”.

With the spotlight firmly fixed on the woman who, by all accounts, displayed an aptitude for music from a young age, she has participated in several TV talent show, dueted up a storm with the band Flamingosi and Aleksa Jelić and even has an album of her own coming the world’s way in the northern autumn.

Take that backstage anomymity!

Well, apart from performing as a backing vocalist for Serbia’s 2001 entrant Nina and her song “Čaroban (Magical)”, a momentary backward step that gave her the “invaluable experience” to make her own mark on the contest in Kyiv this year.

But is “In Too Deep”, which is perhaps not the song title you want bandied about when you’re realising a long held dream to represent your country on your terms, the song to make Eurovision wishes comes true?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Things kick off promisingly with a quirky musical introduction, an insistent melodic refrain that threatens to head off into some very interesting territory indeed.

Ha! More fool you. Rather than heading into trippy, funky electronica territory, the song opts for slightly interesting, occasionally beat-driven power ballad territory, a song that comes with some emotional resonance and musical intensity but nothing that, in the end, you haven’t heard a thousand times before.

It is, like a number of other songs in the contest, not a bad song per se, and Tijana certainly pours every last drop of her impressive vocal ability into bring it to life, but it’s ultimately the sort of musical number whose impact disipates almost immediately upon completion.

It could very well carry Serbia to the grand final but don’t go packing your bags for Belgrade 2018 just yet, if at all.

 

 

SWITZERLAND: “Apollo” by Timebelle

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Switzerland flag

 

THE ARTIST
Timebelle are a group with great expectations for their participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

The Swiss group, made up of avowed chocolate lover and Romania actress and musician & singer Miruna Manescu, charming pianist, saxophonist and clarinetist Emanual Daniel Andriescu and boundlessly energetic drummer Samuel Forster, are aiming to express their “hopes and dreams”, yes all of them, through their song “Apollo”.

One of those hopes is that their entry celebrate the diversity of modern Europe, a hot button topic not just for the band who hail from other parts of Europe but have found a longterm home in Switzerland, but for everyone in an age when divisiveness and close minded rancour are trying to silence the voices of inclusion and respect.

You can only hope they achieve that goal in Kyiv, where peace, love and understanding haven’t exactly been the order of the day of late.

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
If they do fulfill their lofty aspirations, it will not be because of “Apollo”, a pity since it is the main reason they’re in the contest at all.

It is sweetly earnest, violence lyrical allusions notwithstanding which are no doubt intended to lend powerful emotional resonance to the song but carry a weirdly atonal vibe, helped along by Manescu”s robustly beautiful voice.

The chorus is uplifting and you can understand that the songwriters Elias Näslin, Alessandra Günthardt, Nicolas Günthardt have likely poured their heart and soul into this meaningful song.

But pretty does not always equate to impactful and frankly the song too often veers into emo-heavy adult midtempo rock ballad territory, pleasant enough to listen to but nowhere near as worthy as its writers and singers intend it to be.

 

 

THE NETHERLANDS: “Lights and Shadows” by OG3NE

 

Road to Eurovision week 3 The Netherlands flag

 

THE ARTIST
Sisters are doing for themselves if OG3NE, which “represents their mother’s blood type O and the genes that tie the three sisters together” – we’ll leave you to grapple with the pronunciation – are any indication.

Made up of Lisa (22) and twins Amy and Shelley (21), the family are incredibly musical and very close, their bonds solidified by their mother’s ongoing serious illness, the struggle of living with which has created a deep desire to take of and support each other.

It could be all that togetherness, and the polyphonous blending of their voices, that lends the trio, who were the first group to win The Voice anywhere in the world, the sort of success they’ve enjoyed since they burst onto the scene in 2016.

But is their tightness as family and artists enough to propel them, and their song “Lights and Shadows”, written by their father with Shelley’s boyfriend about the effect their mother’s illness has had on the family, enough to give them a Eurovision happily ever after?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
As a sucker for happy endings, whatever the circumstances, I really wish that was the case.

While there is an appealing Wilson Phillips circa 1990 sound and feel to the song, recalling the lofty heights of the group’s megahit “Hold On”, and Og3NE’s voice seamlessly and appealingly blend together in almost angelic fashion, it’s not the sort of song that’s going to cut through at Eurovision.

A pleasant and uplifting time will be had by everyone in the audience, and there’s no denying the lyrical substance of the song, but it’s hard this getting The Netherlands to the grand final.

The great wildcard in all this of course could be a devastatingly good live performance which the group seem more than capable of; if that happens, then all bets are off.

 

My semi final 2 top ten which, as always, is a mix of songs I like and songs that, personal preference aside, could do very well if performed just right on the night. (These are in no particular order).
1. Israel
2. The Netherlands
3. Austria
4. F.Y.R. Maceonia
5. Malta
6. Hungary
7. Lithuania
8. Switzerland
9. Romania
10. Estonia

 

RUSSIA: “Flame is Burning” by Julia Samoylova

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 week 3 Russia flag

 

Russia will not compete in Eurovision this year.

It was supposed to, and had even gone so far as to select Yulia Samoylova who was going to sing the song “Flame is Burning”. But Yulia fell foul of a Ukrainian law which expressly forbids artists who have performed in Crimea, now occupied by Russia but which Ukraine continues to maintain, with the backing of international law, as an inalienable part of its sovereign territory, to enter Ukraine to perform. Ukraine’s refusal to allow Samoylova into the country has, after considerable acrimonious back-and-forth between the two countries, with added intervention by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which oversees Eurovision, led to Russia withdrawing from the contest completely, with no plans to even screen the event (a decision which could result in an EBU ban on the country being allowed to perform in the contest in 2018).

Whether you believe the Ukraine is being needlessly intransigent or Russia is being pointlessly antagonistic (Ukraine’s law was well-publicised), the fact remains that the 43 contestants of this year’s contest are down to 42, not an earthshaking development you may think numbers-wise but certainly one that has shaken many peoples’ idealistic view (in my view, overly idealistic; Eurovision will never escape geopolitical instability in some form or another) of the contest as a bastion of peace and togetherness in a fractious, divided world.

For more on the story, please go to Wiwibloggs, BBC, The Guardian and SBS.

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 5 – F.Y.R. Macedonia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Malta

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

F.Y.R. Macedonia: “Dance Alone” by Jana Burčeska

 


THE ARTIST

If you were looking for the perfect person to represent F.Y.R. Macedonia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, would you (a) pick someone who has done push ups with Batman on Brooklyn Bridge in New York or (b) can rap better than anyone you know or (c) can fluently pronounce the German word Aufmerksamkeitsdefizitmedikamentenbeipackzettel?

Happily in the case of Jana Burčeska, your decision is an easy one since this artist, who rose to prominence on Macedonian Idol in 2011, can do all three!

Talk about your ultimate multitasker; not only can she do all that, but she can sing and perform like nobody’s business, which is rather handy when you think about it because she is appearing in a singing contest.

Thrilled to be representing Macedonia, Jana, who is also a UN Ambassador who promotes violence-free schools, admits that a smile hasn’t left her face since she got the good news.

But does her song, “Dance Alone”, which isn’t the most sociable or uplifting of titles, bode well for a continued happy state, or will she end up a little less than ecstatic once the semi final 2 voting dust settles?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Gotta say the odds of her smiling like a super successful fiend are pretty good.

“Dance Alone” is a supremely catchy, perfect slice of pop that, while a little generic, nevertheless has enough of a Robyn vibe going on, such that she could very well find success, particularly if her “refined and sensitive stage performance” adds some extra atmosphere to the song.

In a sea of ballads and mid-tempo numbers, having a song with some danceability and personality is welcome, and you get the feeling, as you listen to Jana, that she has the vocal chops to elevate the song when it really matters.

Expect Jana to be dancing with more than a few others, come voting time, on her way to the grand final.

 

 

HUNGARY: “Origo” by Joci Pápai

 

 

THE ARTIST
Joci Pápai must be tired.

According to his Eurovision bio, he picked up a guitar at the age of 4 and hasn’t put it down since which is pretty impressive; after all, things may feel light at first but they usually end up getting heavier the longer you hold them.

When he’s not determinedly clutching musical instruments, Joci, whose dad was the leader of a big gypsy orchestra, he’s winningly blending electronica with Hungarian and gypsy sounds, creating a unique style of music that saw him make it big in 2005 when his first album spawned a number of chart-topping singles.

That success follows many years competing somewhat fruitlessly in talent shows and sees this highly-popular artist, the first gypsy to represent Hungary as he proudly proclaims, eager to make the most of his pan European exposure.

But will this “believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai” be able to make good on his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with his song “Origo”?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
The song, which he says is “one hundred percent me”, is hauntingly beautiful, a wave of ethereal but richly substantial vocals that give way to some inspired violin playing.

In short, “Origo” has atmosphere in spades, neatly straddling east and west, modern and traditional, so compellingly that it’s hard not see this as a big crowd favourite in Kyiv.

Even his rap works in the bridge of the song, delivered with a passion and emotional resonance that can’t help but move you and get you dancing into the bargain.

“Origo” is different and eminently listenable and danceable and should see Hungary through to the grand final in fine showstopping style.

 

 

IRELAND: “Dying to Try” by Brendan Murray

 

 

THE ARTIST
Coming from a musical background is a big plus if you (a) want a burgeoning music career, which Brendan most certainly has with boyband Hometown, and (b) want to make your name at Eurovision, an arena in which Ireland has not exactly excelled in recent years.

That kind of pedigree also helps you get noticed by people who matter which is how he came to co-write Kelly Clarkson’s hit song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” which was nominated for Song the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2013.

And it’s no doubt why Brendan successfully taught himself guitar at the age of 13, and why leaving school at 16 to seek his fame and fortune singing his heart out has garnered such success.

But will it will be enough to send him catapulting into the grand final and give Ireland a shot at winning Eurovision, something it hasn’t managed since 1996?

 

(photo courtesy official Brendan Murray Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly, while I admire Brendan’s earnestness that percolates through “Dying to Try” with the all the fervency of a melodramatic love affair, a reflection of its theme of taking a chance at love, the song doesn’t so much explode out of the box as meander sweetly through a field of flowers.

It’s a beautiful song in its own way, and actually benefits from his intense vocals, but it never really gets up a head of steam.

It will likely attract a lot of attention during the performance but disappear into the ether quickly thereafter.

Much as I would like Ireland to scale the dizzying heights of 1990s Eurovision success, I don’t see “Dying to try” being the song to make that happen.

 

 

ISRAEL: “I Feel Alive” by IMRI

 

 

THE ARTIST
Ladies and gentlemen, that man you see hurtling from the singing back blocks, where anonymity is a given and self-sacrifice is a damn near mandatory, is IMRI, who apart from leaping supporting status in a single bound, can sing, play the guitar and piano and make a mean batch of hummus.

Actually I have no idea about that last part, which is all hopeful conjecture on my part, but there’s no doubt that IMRI, who can sing in Spanish, Hebrew and English, and is, and here I become Captain Obvious, devastatingly handsome, has what it takes to make it in the musical world.

He won TV’s Rising Star singing competition this year, has sung in dozens across the globe and has even done voice over work in a number of animated series which is, I grant you, not a musical accomplishment as such, but pretty damn cool and worthy of note.

He is also obsessed with singing Queens’ “We Are the Champions” which he learnt at the astonishingly young of two to his family’s delight (although the fact that he used to sing it at “every possible occasion” means the family may no longer be so enamoured of the iconic song).

So IMRI has what it takes to make it big but can he make it big at Eurovision with “I Feel Alive”?

 

(photo by Ronen Akerman, courtesy official IMRI Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Hell to the yes is my considered opinion!

Weaving in what IMRI refers to as “an ethnic groove”, “I Feel Alive” is insanely, heartstoppingly catchy, building and building in a goosebumping way that will have the entire arena in Kyiv dancing their Eurovision-loving songs off.

It’s an of-the-moment dancefloor stomper that manages to escape the generic dance song curse, surging out of the gates with brio and a bristling sense of ecstatic joy, all anchored by IMRI’s more than up to the task, emotionally-evocative vocals.

If you’re not dancing to this five seconds in, and voting for it to go through to the grand final then you are dead in the soul, my friend, DEAD … IN … THE … SOUL.

 

 

LITHUANIA: “Rain of Revolution” by FusedMarc

 

 

THE ARTIST
It’s hard to say exactly where Lithuanian music was languishing prior to their emergence, but according to their Eurovision bio, FusedMarc (Cilia and Vakx) “raised the standard for Lithuanian music to a European level” when they appeared on the country’s music scene.

From that, you could well surmise that the band is possessed of such musical power that they have similarly affected the countries they have toured which include Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic; but to be fair no one is venturing an opinion on that score.

That’s quite the musical revolution they have going on there, but given the number of awards they’ve received from Breakthrough of the Lithuanian Alternative Scene in 2005 to Best Experimental Music Band in 2007 – and don’t forget Best Lithuanian Electonic Band in 2008 – it’s say to say that the genre-melding band which formed in 2004, has had a considerable impact.

But can they, you ask in breathless anticipation, make their mark on Eurovision too?

 

(photo courtesy FusedMarc Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly once “Rain of Revolution” kicks off, quickly throwing everything from a driving beat, blissfully contorted vocals and a decidedly quirky melody into the mix, you have to be inclined to bow before them.

It’s not a perfect song with the bridge stumbling a little in both musical and vocal execution, but by and large, this song has some serious chutzpah, aided by Cilia’s energetic delivery, which while it might not be vocally always on point, never lacks for attitude, power or serious presence.

I’m not fully convinced it will send Lithuania careening into the grand final, missing just enough x factor to really be over the top memorable, but it’s bound to make for an impressive spectacle, which is after all, what Eurovision is all about (besides peace, humanity and cooperation, of course).

So while they may not reshape Europe as we know it musically, they’re going to make us sit up and take notice, which is close enough.

 

 

MALTA: “Breathlessly” by Claudia Faniello

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently dear Claudia has a million emotions crowded inside the all too finite area of her vocal chords.

You might think this a tad uncomfortable but the woman described as “a girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life”, no doubt is well used to taking it all in her stride.

It likely helps that the artist, who shot to prominence in 2006 when she came fourth on TV singing competition Hotspot, and who made her first bid for Eurovision and won the Festival Kanzunetta Indipendenza the following year, is a grounded person who works with kids who have intellectual, physical and behavioural difficulties and as a past Bulimia-sufferer, raises awareness of the disease with the public.

But can the lady who has watched her brother twice represent the country, and who has dreamed of being in this position since childhood, make all those emotions work her to make her dreams come true?

 

(photo courtesy official Claudia Faniello Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It’s an even bet each way on “Breathlessly”, which is your big, ballsy torch song ballad anchored by Claudia’s voice which sounds like it could well accommodate the much-vaunted number of emotions.

It does venture into feel good mid-tempo territory from time to time, and you can’t help feeling you’re being a little emotionally manipulated at times; having said that, it’s a gorgeous song that resonates with some truly authentic power and passion, with Claudia making you believe she is living every intense emotion-charged moment.

So I’m torn – on one hand, the song is a rich, deeply emotional journey, but on the other, it feels a little too contrived, a little too ballad-by-numbers.

Not being emphatically one or the other means, like some other songs in the competition that it will come down to the performance on the night, and I have every reason to suspect that Claudia is more than capable of rising to the occasion.

 

Now this is music #87: Emma Gatrill, Soleima, Lunch Ladies, Floor Staff, Crooked Colours

 

Love and despair. Sadness and happiness. Upbeat and downcast.

Life has many moods, many of them contrary and intermingled, and these five talented artists, who hail from around the world, are enormously adept at capturing these glorious inconsistencies and setting them to beautiful, arresting music.

Its insight and melody combined and it’s what you want from the music you listen to, since all that listening happens while you’re living life and it makes sense that it doesn’t just tickle the ears but touches the soul and mind too.

 

“Skin” by Emma Gatrill

 

Emma Gatrill (image courtesy official Emma Gatrill Facebook page)

 

There’s a delicate beauty to Emma Gattrill’s beauty that belies how robust the sounds created by the Brighton, UK native actually are.

“Skin”, which leads off her album Cocoon, is a gem, emblematic of Gatrill’s skill at investing her music, which Stereogum says sits “somewhere between the Julia Holter aurora and the Sufjan Stevens [musical] supernova” with real depth and substance, both melodic and lyrical.

In a statement about “Skin”, she explains how much thought went into every facet of this remarkably beautiful and meaningful song:

“Skin is a love song. It explores our desires as individuals to be together even when life pulls us in different directions.

“The shuffle sounding beat which lies underneath the electronic drums in the song is created by me tap dancing in socks on a wooden board and then continuously looped up to give that soft shuffle sound. I like the idea that many steps have been taken during this song as the song represents how we are continuously travelling, our paths weaving in and out of each other.”

 

“Wasted” by Soleima
Soleima (image via official Soleima Facebook page)

 

There’s an engaging loping quirkiness to “Wasted” by Danish artist Soleima, a song that carries a delicious double meaning, according to the Copenhagen-based native:

“… the term ‘wasted’ gets double sided in this song. The obvious meaning is of course being drunk/high and therefore unable to process thoughts and logic. The other way to look at it, is that some people, like myself, are able to lead a certain kind of life whereas many don’t have the same possibilities as me – and sometimes that opportunity can be wasted.” (source: The Line of Best Fit)

That added lyrical depth sets “Wasted” apart from its run-of-the-mill trippy genremates, augmented by Soleima’s beguilingly unique vocals which mix a little girl lost vibe with late night cabaret duskiness.

It all means that “Wasted” sounds like everything you’ve heard before and yet none of it, a clever musical bridging between the usual and the new that is evidenced on Soleima’s later tracks.

 

 

“Love is Overrated” by Lunch Ladies

 

Lunch Ladies (image via official Lunch Ladies Facebook page)

 

Channelling an infinitely appealing dreamy retro pop vibe that captures you from the word go, “Love is Overrated” kicks things off with a lovely long intro that never once outstays its richly multilayered welcome.

When the remote, lush harmonies come rolling in, you’re treated to midtempo, lofi pop with a persistently robust guitar underpinning that keeps things humming along without once feeling it’s in a rush to get anywhere in particular.

The once-were New Jersey natives, now Brookyn-based band have knack for crafting, do actually believe in love by the way, just in case you think the song suggests otherwise:

“Love definitely isn’t overrated. Love is very important, always, and especially in times like these. I wrote this song during a period where I didn’t get other people’s relationships and the drama that comes with it, and felt happy being on my own.” (source: vocalist/bassist Cynthia Rittenbach, Little Indie Blogs)

Some insightful slice-of-life observations and an luscious, exquisitely nuanced melody granted this song an appealing richness, which the band have brought to bear with compelling effect on their debut LP Down on Sunset Strip (March 10).

 

 

“Saviour” by Floor Staff

 

Floor Staff (image courtesy official Floor Staff Facebook page)

 

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Floor Staff aka singer/songwriter/composer Anthony Donnelly, sends us hurtling back to the lazy, hazy days of the polyester-loving ’70s with “Saviour”.

Blending light and dark, its giddily upbeat synth-driven melody, which is never less than smile-inducingly good and captivating blissful, contrasts with the lyrical content which Little Indie Blogs notes are dark, “confronting bereavement, fidelity and self-esteem.”

It’s a very Scandinavia mindset which works brilliantly well on the track, an approach that gives musical life to the idea that happiness and sadness aren’t always distinct from each other, merging and pulling apart in that untidy way life has of letting things go where they will.

The combination of less than stellar ruminations about life and the pulsing insistent chipper sound of the music can get into your soul in ways that a more direct approach may not always manage; you can find out how much Floor Staff’s music can get around your defenses by listening to his two EPs, The Good Luck EP and Convictions.

 

 

“Flow” by Crooked Colours

 

Crooked Colours (image courtesy official Crooked Colours Facebook page)

 

Perth, Australia-based electronic band Crooked Colours (Philip Slabber, Leon De Baughn, Liam Merrett-Park), arrived their uniquely sparse but melody-rich sound by listening to a lot of music as they told national Australian radio station Triple J’s Unearthed page:

“Our music is pretty diverse from song to song and it has taken us a long time to figure out the music that we really want to make. We listen to as much music as we can and spend a lot of time tinkering around on synths and whatever else we can get our hands on.”

This glorious diversity of influential sounds make a brilliantly listenable outworking on tracks like “Flow” which skips along with a driving beat and guitar flourishes while at the same time sounding light, fun and lavishly lightweight, the result of what Vents Magazine calls an approach “that has one foot in the indie world and one foot in a darker electronic realm.”

The song is their first release in 18 months and heralds the arrival of debut LP due later this year, which judging by its advance adventurous sounds, could well match the success of their initial triple volley of “Come Down”, “Capricious”, and “Another Way” which saw them hit no 1 on Hype Machine, in the process generating 6 million streams.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Girls just wrapped up its final season, but not before Adelaide-based Tkay Maidza was given the chance by creator and star Lena Dunham to contribute a song, “Glorious”, to the penultimate episode.

Read all about it at Junkee.

 

 

And what would life be like without someone mashing up the good Muppet-y citizens of Sesame Street with a catchy track?

Here’s a year-old effort from Mylo the Cat, which brings together Bert & Ernie (and the cast of the show) with “Regulate” by Warren G feat Nate Dogg.

 

 

Finally Lady Gaga has a supremely catchy new song “The Cure”, a deliciously listenable synth pop gem that she casually dropped during a set at Coachella, as you do (source: Forbes)

 

 

And yeah the fans LOVE it … how could they not? It’s FAAAABUUUULOUS …

 

Get Ur Freak On with Missy Elliott and the Teletubbies

(image via Teletubbies wikia)

 

It’s true what they say – you can’t keep a freaky good Teletubby down!

Actually no one likely says that at all, but they should with a brand new mash-up video, by YouTube user Robert Jones, giving the Teletubbies, who ran for 365 episodes in 1997-2001, before being revived for 60 episodes in 2014, a chance to get their freak on Missy Elliott-style.

The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), a compulsively listenable song in a collection of similarly-strong songs. The movie, which I quite enjoyed in a pulpy switch-your-brain-off kind of way, may not have met with critical acclaim, but the soundtrack, which gathered together Missy Elliott, Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx among many others, was a resounding success.

Now 16 years later, the Teletubbies, who as noted have experienced a pop culture Lazarus moment of their own of late, are giving “Get Ur Freak On” a whole new brightly-coloured lease on life and we are all the better for it.

So you heard them – off you go and well, you know …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

And just so you have a reference point, here’s the non-Teletubbies original clip.

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 4 – Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

AUSTRIA: “Running on Air” by Nathan Trent

 

 

THE ARTIST
For an artist whose song is all about the good and the bad things in your life, Nathan Trent has certainly led a charmed existence to date.

Raised bilingually by an Austrian father and an Italian mother, he grew up learning to play the violin and piano and appearing in productions at the State Theatre in his hometown of Innsbruck, before making his mark in talent shows across Austria and Germany and studying, you guessed it, at the Music and Arts University in Vienna (c’mon it’s not like he was going to do commercial law with that creativity woven into his childhood).

If all those achievements don’t dazzle your Eurovision-loving senses, how about the fact that writes his own songs and was discovered by Austrian broadcaster ORF based on his debut single “Like It Is”, leading to an invitation to represent his home country at this year’s contest?

All in all, not a bad life but can he take the song he co-wrote with Bernhard Penzias and make it even better?

 

(Copyright: Jan Frankl; image via official Nathan Trent Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
From a sheer likability factor alone, you want him to do well (simmering jealousy as his laudable achievements thus far notwithstanding; oh just me? Well okay then), and certainly “Running On Air” (truth be told, he’s running on snow in the clip but we’ll let that go through on the basis of artistic license), which delightfully combines the musical sounds of John Mayer and Ed Sheeran to highly-listenable effect, puts him in with a real chance.

Granted, it’s not some cutting-edge pop/R&B that redefines music as we know it, and that could lessen his cut-through factor with voters.

Having said, the combination of a catchy song, that occupies rare middle ground niche in a year when it’s ballads and dance number at polarising, duelling 40 paces, that smile and upbeat, bright vocals should deliver up a berth in the grand final at the very least.

 

 


BELARUS: “Story of My Life” by Naviband

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently, Artem Lukyanenko and Ksenia Zhuk, who have performed together as Naviband since 2013, are the yin and yang of musical artistry.

Ksenia, a vocalist, is described as “the bullet” while Artem, who is qualified as a journalist but works as a professional guitar and piano player (hard to say which is the more precarious professional choice: let’s hope his parents didn’t want him to be a doctor) is regarded as the “calm and reasonable”.

While I’m not sure if that means we’ll be treated to a dramatic diva moment by Ksenia while Artem tries to mollify her in between thrown plates and bass guitars, one thing that is certain is that their entry will be the first song sung in Belarussian in the entire history of Eurovision.

It’s not as dramatic a claim as it sounds when you remember that Belarus has only participated in Eurovision since 2004, but it’s great to see an act singing in their national language, particularly given the fact that Belarus is 800 years old this year.

So beside a gigantic birthday cake that must, and I repeat must be included in their onstage performance – guess it didn’t make it into the clip given the logistics of carrying big baked goods into the forest- will they get a lovely crystal microphone to take home?

 

(photo courtesy official Naviband Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It would be quite the fairytale finish and frankly if Belarus’s participation in Eurovision this year was being written by Hollywood, or a damn good PR company, it would indeed happen.

As songs go, this one is irrepressibly upbeat and joyously alive, anchored by Ksenia’s gloriously exultant vocals and Artem’s more grounded singing – their voices merge to quite beautiful effect – and benefits in a multitude of ways from being sung in Belarussian , which sounds brilliantly expressive.

You can only hope that people will tap into the exquisitely happy energy of “Story of My Life”, written by Artem – you have to assume he’s had a damn good life; either that or he’s adept at being dirge-like in giddily-merry fashion – which is entirely possible if the live performance is as captivating as the clip.

 

 


BULGARIA: “Beautiful Mess” By Kristian Kolov

 

 

THE ARTIST
Clearly a man who sees virtue in shirking his domestic cleaning responsibilities of his song title is any guide, Kristian Kolov is one of the babies of this year’s contest, clocking in at the tender age of 17.

But don’t let his baby face fool you – he’s managed to cram quite a lot into his short time on earth (which rather distressingly for those who are not 17, pretty much occupies the 21st century alone).

He kicked things off at 6, going solo at age 11 – thank god because those pre-pubescent boy bands are just THE WORST – taking part in competitions, the high water mark of which was taking part on Russia’s The Voice Kids where past Eurovision entrant Dima Bilan was his mentor.

From there it was off to Bulgaria, chart topping songs in Bulgarian and English, and perhaps a sneaking, whispered subconscious fear that he’s peaked way too early? Prodigies even do existential angst early I’ve heard.

Will Eurovision further cement his meteoric rise or will be spared achieving everything before the end of his teenage years, thus spared a life of heavy drinking and regret? (Just me again? Gotcha).

 

(photo courtesy official Kristian Kolov Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
His song “Beautiful Mess”, proves it take a village of songwriters (Joacim Persson, Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, Alex Omar and Alexander V. Blay) t write a catchy but ultimately forgettable song.

It’s not that it’s a bad song, and in fact is pretty damn lovely at times, but it spends much of its three minute-mandated running time – Eurovision songs can’t exceed the 180 second mark on pain of … frankly I'[m not sure – meandering pleasantly but with little real impact.

Kostov has a lovely enough voice but again nothing out of the box and it’s hard to see this year’s Bulgarian entry doing much more than providing a nice interlude towards the end of the second semi-final when everyone will be getting a little tired from all flag-waving, hollering and glitter inhalation and will be looking forward to kicking back with a cup of tea and some easy listening loveliness.

 

 


CROATIA: “My Friend” by Jacques Houdek

 

 

THE ARTIST
Jacques Houdek may have 13 albums to his credit, which have attracted gold, platinum and diamond status, he may have performed thousands of concerts, and be a mentor on the voice of Croatia, but what has really made his day, year, in fact all 16 years of his professional career, is that he is representing Croatia at this year’s event.

But don’t just take my word for it.

“Eurovision has been my life long dream, and everyone in Croatia knows this! I have been a fan ever since I was a kid and I’m so thankful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, finally! I am so happy!”

It makes sense that he’d be elated since this is just a case of being the flag bearer for his home country; it’s the peak of his musical journey so far, once defined by a life “completely devoted to music – for me there us no life without it”.

So creative and career boxes ticked but will the reality on the ground, which let’s be honest is not always kind to elation-wrapped, childhood dreams, going to matchthe starry-eyed expectation?

 

(photo: Damjan Fiket; via official Jacques Houdek Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
According to his official Eurovision bio, Jacques is known as Mr Voice in his homeland.

Given his vocal multifaceted performance on “My Friend”, he maybe perhaps henceforth as Mr Voices, a fitting musical sobriquet given the fact that he duels with himself, switching between earnest pop ballad warbling and populist operatic singing.

The effect, no doubt intended to be epic and profound, comes across as a weirdly multi-personality disorder that doesn’t fully gel, and conjures up mental ages of Houdek running from one side of the stage to each other throughout the song pretending to be two people (will that count to wards the country’s limit of stage performers I wonder).

It’s a pretty enough song but I don’t think the execution is as successfully in practice as it likely seemed on paper, and while it may summon the necessary chutzpah to catapult Croatia into the grand final, it’s just a little too weird to hand the country the win.

 

 


DENMARK: “Where I Am” by Anja

 

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you think that Australia’s sole connection to Denmark is that we have selflessly contributed a future queen to their royal ranks, think again.

We have also, and again selflessly it should be added, given Anja, who was born and raised in Australia to Danish parents, to the people of Denmark to represent them at this year’s contest.

And not just any old entrant, with Anja the winner of the 2014 series of The Voice Australia, and the runner up of last year’s Danish Eurovision selection contest Melodi Grand Prix and a singer who has been singing from a very young age, pet snake in tow, and had YouTube videos to prove it.

She has the credentials, and she has a love of her other homeland, and newly-polish Danish-speaking skills, but she have the song she needs to make Princess Mary and the entire nation proud?

 

(photo courtesy official Anja Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
“Where I Am” kicks off pretty spectacularly with some intense, almost acapella chanting.

So far so good. But then the song by Anja Nissen, Michael D’Arcy, Angel Tupai – see she writes songs too! – slows down and becomes a little too pedestrian, enjoyable enough in its own way but not possessing enough of a point of difference to really make a mark.

One thing in Anja’s favour is her voice which is more than up to the task; unfortunately while the song may kick up a gear live, highly likely if the video is any guide, it’s simply not distinctive to win the contest for Denmark, Anja’s childhood dream or not.

My only worry is that by not unabashedly supporting the song I may have cost myself afternoon team with Princess Mary but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

 

 


ESTONIA: “Verona” by Koit Toome & Laura

 

 

 

THE ARTIST
Bow before Estonia’s entrants, ye peasants, for they are apparently widely-regarded as Estonian pop royalty, a power couple who have the rare distinction of representing their country in 2005 (Laura as part of group Suntribe, “Let’s Get Loud”) and 1998 (Koit, “Mere Lapsed”) as solo artists, and now as a duo.

They come from quite different worlds with Koit bestriding the world of musical theatre and Laura as the head of the Estonian Jazz Union, which is less militant than it sounds, organising jazz concerts right around the country, but together are channelling the spirit of Romeo and Juliet for their performance. (Hopefully without the tragic double suicide which, let’s face it, would be a major downer for the telecast.)

When they are not making each other laugh – it’s an occupational hazard it seems, triggered either by Laura’s odd improvisational vocal warmup exercises. or by Koit’s pre-performance weird walks – they are, we’re assured, an amazing team who will, in all likelihood knock our figurative socks off.

But there is hype and then there is reality – where on this showbiz spectrum do Estonia’s newly-minted duo (a surprise to them and their fans; I smell a concocted entry) fall?

 

(photo courtesy official Koit Toome & Laura Facebook page)

 

 

THE SONG
“Verona” isn’t exactly coy with the Romeo and Juliet allusions, rather clumsily inserting them into just about lyric.

It doesn’t exactly work all the time – the music is reasonably catchy though hardly a standout and the lyrics sound oddly forced, but the manufactured duo’s voices do meld rather pleasingly, with Laura do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to making a vocal splash.

Again, this is a case of not a bad song, one that could quite possible grow on you with repeated listens, and may do well on the night with an inspired staging, but it’s not going to be the talk of semi final 2, and doesn’t stand any real chance of taking Estonia to the grand final.

The one caveat on that is a knockout live performance, which has been shown to elevate less than stellar songs, which both performers are eminently capable of delivering.

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 3 – Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

MOLDOVA: “Hey Mamma” by Sunstroke Project

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 Week 3 Moldova flag

 

THE ARTIST
It’s not unusual to have acts return for a second bite at the Eurovision cherry, usually moving from backing singers to the main event (there are exceptions such as San Marino’s Valentina Monetta who didn’t seem to ever leave), so the reappearance of Sunstroke Project, who first used their violin, saxophone and dance music to great effect for Moldova’s 2010 entrant Olia Tira, makes perfect sense.

As does the fact that the man known as Epic Sax Guy, Sergey Stepanov, who remains part of the line-up is returning; you don’t become a viral sensation, responsible for million of views on YouTube and get left on the sidelines.

All that digital fame can’t hurt a band and so it is that Sunstroke Project, who sound like they’re named after a particularly earnest endeavour by a cancer council seeking to promote the dangers of too much sun exposure, have kept themselves near the top of the charts, touring internationally and running their own record label, Ragoza Records, to which, you’d have to assume, they’ve had the good sense to sign themselves.

That’s a whole lot of success going on there, not to mention (but of course I will; you know I must) that they consider themselves “the most funny people in the world” which may be news to a whole slew of standup comics and the estate of Robin Williams.

That aside, however, they clearly have runs on the board, and so it stands to reason they have a pretty good shot at making an impressive go of their Eurovision performance as Moldova’s main act, do they not?

 

(image courtesy official Sunstroke Project Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
That “Hey Mamma” will make a for fun interlude in semi-final 1 is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Sunstroke Project use their self-proclaimed world first combination of violin, jazz, saxophone and singing – there could be a reason this hasn’t been attempted before but we digress – to serve up a surprisingly infectious song that is likely to get the cloud clapping, dancing and have the sort of fun they should have at Eurovision (when not pondering world peace and the betterment of humanity, naturally).

And while it would be tempting to make some fun of their offbeat sound, there’s something actually compelling about the song which, awkward video clip aside, actually sneaks up on you and demands to be, and is, liked.

Whether it will make itself a long-term home on my iPod is another thing entirely but then it only has to make a splash on semi final 1 night and then again on grand final night and it’s job is done.

 

 

“Space” by Slavko Kalezić

 

(image courtesy official Slavko Kalezić Facebook page)

 

THE ARTIST
Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make your presence felt at Eurovision, a song contest that was once known for its outrageously camp and over the top acts and which is now a little tamer as it slips into its more publicly-conscious later middle age.

Slavko Kalezić is a man who, besides being a quintuple threat (not for him the banalities of those thick-on-the-ground triple threats) – he is an artist, musician, actor (movies, TV and theatre), reality TV star and one man show veteran, knows how to put on a show.

Every damn day of his life, I suspect.

For the purposes of Eurovision, which is his natural home surely, Podgorica-born Slavko, has drawn on his education in the mid-Noughties at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Montenegro, his subsequent masters in acting, and his membership of the Montenegrin National Theatre – granting him, apparently , an appreciation of “[perfecting] movement as an important tool in 21st century theatre” – to come up with a truly unique act for the event.

One that involves long blue skirts, much standing in the middle of quarries and hair so long he is able to save people from floods just be doing the “Pantene flick” and urging them to grab onto the superlong follicles.

But lustrous hair, a cosmopolitan fashion sense and performance zest aren’t everything you need to make it big at Eurovision; you also need a song that will dazzle and impress and most importantly get the people of Europe voting.

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 Week 3 Montenegro flag

 

THE SONG
It’s hard to know if “Space”, which has been packed with more sexual innuendo than an old Benny Hill routine, and with considerably less subtlety thank you, by lyric writers Adis Eminić, Iva Boršić, Momcilo Zekovic Zeko, is going to make that kind of, ahem, splash.

Yes, it is a gloriously danceable piece of Jamiroquai-esque ’90s funk pop that dares you stay sticking in your seat and it’s damn near impossible not to feel driven to let your inner John Travolta loose on the dancefloor (the Saturday Night Fever version, not so much later incarnations).

But like many other songs in this competition, it almost gets there but doesn’t quite; catchy yes and sure to be a crowd favourite no doubt but it’s very much a case of wholesale appropriation of a genre with no real flair of its own.

So its not bad, not at all, and thanks to Slavko’s flamboyance, bound to be instantly memorable, but while it might life him from an earth bound semi final 1 to the stratospheric delights of the grand final, I doubt the contest will be coming (ahem, again; hey he started it) to Montengero in 2018.

 

 

POLAND: “Flashlight” by Kasia Moś

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Poland flag

 

THE ARTIST
It’s all in the family for cellist and pianist Kasia Moś.

Her dad, Marek, is a conductor/violinist/chamber musician and AUKSO chamber orchestra director while her mum, Joanna, plays the violin and her brother Mateusz is a violinist and composer who produced her debut album. So it’s pretty crowded in the Moś musical gene pool, an advantage when you’ve been chosen to represent your country at Eurovision.

She has taken all that talent and run with it, graduating from Karol Szymanowski Vocal Academy of Music in Katowice, starring in musicals and The Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Review show and a slew of festivals and reality TV shows.

Clearly believing she is not quite accomplished enough, she has tried out for Eurovision in 2006, 2016 and 2017 where she was successful with the song “Flashlight”.

Intrinsic talent and hard work is one thing but does her song have it takes to catapult her towards even more impressive levels of musical accomplishment?

 

(image courtesy official Kasia Mos Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
“Flashlight” is one of those songs that initially underwhelms, its reasonably been-there-done-that ballad construction running out of zest as early as the bridge which meanders into nothingness.

It never really picks up much of a head of steam nor stamps itself as anything beyond run of the mill despite Kasia’s beautiful voice which draws more life than you might expect from the song by Kasia Moś, Rickard Bonde Truumeel, Pete Barringer (DWB).

Where it could rise above the ballad pack is with an innovative stage performance and Kasia really letting loose in a live setting; we’ve been down this road before with songs that are underwhelming in a video clip context suddenly  bursting forth, diva-like, onto the stage at Eurovision and sweep all before them.

While I am not entirely convinced that will be happen here, it’s about the only way this song, which is as paint-by-numbers as they come (again Kasia’a voice notwithstanding), will really make itself truly noticeable.

 

 

PORTUGAL:  “Amar Pelos Dois” by Salvador Sobral

 

 

THE ARTIST
There is a delicious air of pleasurably-dishevelled genius to some great musical talents.

While there is nothing wrong with the visual trappings of performance, and many artists embrace those elements every bit as much as the purity of the music itself, there are some people such as, I suspect, Salvador Sobral for whom music is the thing and the only thing.

Possessed of a powerful voice that resonates with an exquisite emotional sensibility that many other singers would eat their vocal chords for (yes, yes it’s anatomically impossible but you get the point), Sobral gave up studies in psychology to fully indulge his passion for music.

It’s a passion that has driven him to study at the prestigious Taller de Musics in Barcelona (where he lived as a child, along with stints in the USA), compose his own songs and create transcendent stage performances that have, somewhat miraculously united both critics and the press in their praise.

So it’s clear he sings with all his heart, and cares not for fashion or appearance (to be fair he appears to be wearing his grandfather’s too big jacket) but will a fundamental love for music be enough to carry him over the line at Eurovision, where talent, looks and showmanship generally go hand in hand in hand?

 

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Quite possibly yes – at least as far as escaping the semi final to the grand final is concerned.

While I expect flashier, more extravagantly-staged acts will leave Sobral in their wake come the big night, there is something intoxicatingly and sublimely romantic about Sobral’s fey but robust voice.

It’s well nigh impossible not to be swept up in the poetical lyricism of “Amar Pelos Dois (For The Both Of Us)”, penned by his sister Luisa, which combines the big band showmanship of Sinatra and Buble with more traditional folk forms.

While I can’t see Sobral walking away with the crystal microphone, his performance is likely to lend Eurovision one of those blissfully transcendent, and deeply cinematic moments that are all too rare on the contest’s stage.

 

 

SLOVENIA: “On My Way” by Omar Naber

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Slovenia flag

 

THE ARTIST
Omar Naber’s growing musical ascendancy is the result of teenage years well spent.

While his peers were off at booze-filled parties and setting fire to posters taped to telegraph poles – there is absolutely no evidence any of this happened but it sounds way more dramatic for the purposes of the comparison to follow- Omar spent his time from the age of 16 perfecting his guitar, bass guitar and piano skills, and composing, arranging and producing his own songs.

It has clearly stood him in good stead with the 35 year old artist of Jordanian and Slovenian descent winning The Battle of the Talents and representing Slovenia not once but twice, in 2005 (“Stop”) and 2017 at Eurovision, both times in Kyiv (which does nothing for the variety of stamps in his passport, although his professional ping-ponging between Ljubljana and London is doing a lot to ameliorate this).

Clearly possessed of prodigious talent, with this year’s song “On My Way” wholly composed by Naber, does he have it in him to not just perform again at Eurovision but take home the glittering main prize?

 

(image courtesy official Omar Naber Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Every chance in the world frankly.

While the song resembles the sort of inspirational mix of soaring ballad we’ve heard a thousand times before, with an alluring lift of uplifting lyrics and melancholic melodic undertones, Omar Naber can sing, and then some.

He takes a reasonably ordinary if beautiful song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the finale of a musical where the hero is departing for places unknown, and invests with a transportive emotional resonance that can’t help but move you.

Throw in the sort of stage performance for which he is clearly gifted and this song could be a real contender.

 

 

SWEDEN: “I Can’t Go On” by Robin Bengtsson

 

Road to Eurovision The Big Six Sweden flag

 

THE ARTIST
You can help but wonder if Robin Bengtsson is a mutant of some kind with his Eurovision bio stating he “literally blew the judges away with his soulful and mature voice” when he auditioned for Sweden Idol in 2008 at the tender age of 17.

Leaving aside the fact that Professor Xavier may one day come a-calling, Bengtsson, who is proficient in guitar and trumpet, is possessed of an impressive set of pipes and the ability to really make something of them up on stage.

But he’s congnisant that music does not totally make the man, well this one at least, and so he devotes time to travelling, family, cars and motorcycles (he is a former motocross rider) inbetween writing music, touring with his band and topping the charts.

He clearly has the right mix of drive and talent, not to mention a very health work-life balance but will his song, part written by Sweden’s entrant in 2013, Robin Stjernberg carry him to victory in the contest he’s watched, like so many others, since he was a kid?

 

(image courtesy official Robin Bengtsson Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
While the song is no “Euphoria”, the song performed by Loreen which won Eurovision for Sweden  in 2012, and Bengtsson doesn’t have smoothly-calibrated moves of Måns Zelmerlöw (winner for Sweden in 2015), it does have a driving, insanely addictive rhythm that immerses you in a sumptuous danceable melody that would be right at home in the clubs of Europe.

Eschewing any kind of inspirational message, which is kind of relief given the calculated faux earnestness of many Eurovision songs, “I Can’t Go On” settles instead for unbridled lust dressed up as unstoppable nascent love.

A deeply philosophical rumination on the vagaries of life it is not, but it is catchy as hell and coupled with a visually stunning performance (which may be let down by the artist’s relatively wooden onstage moves) could well carry Sweden over the line once again, which must be causing heart palpitations in Stockholm.

 

 

  • So here’s my predicted Top 10 which carries with it Nostradamus-like attempts to divine what Europe will like vs. what I like, and all the worth of expired home delivery pizza coupons … (not in any particular order)
  1. Sweden
  2. Belgium
  3. Albania
  4. Finland
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Portugal
  7. Iceland
  8. Montenegro
  9. Latvia
  10. Poland
  11. My wildcard is all this is Georgia which on the strength of a strong live performance may transcend its song’s mediocre trappings.

 

Now this is music #86 – Francis and the Lights, NIIA, Emma Sameth, Dyan, For Esme

 

Today is a hard day for me.

It’s my dad’s first birthday since he died on 10 June last year and as with all the first days since someone you loved dearly dies, it has left me feeling deeply reflective,  a little sad and lost and not up to dancing around the floor as is my usual wont.

So in honour of my thoughtful, beautiful father, who was never less than open to the world, selflessly loving and willing to mock the silliness and artifice of the world and its entrenched beliefs, and who loved his family more than anything, I give you these songs.

They speak of life, love and the feeling of everything deep, true and real and these artists are my voice and my soul today, and while dad never listened to these songs (he was more of an Andre Rieu and classical music guy), I can help but hope he’d have loved the spirit and emotional intellgence behind these songs by five quite remarkable artists who know life and how much it means.

I love you, dad … happy birthday from me and much love, this year and forevermore.

 

“My City’s Gone” by Francis and the Lights

 

Francis and the Lights (farewellstarlite.com photo by @lovetheghost music)

 

You would expect someone who has worked with the likes of Drake and Frank Ocean to know their way around a magnetically appealing song and Francis Farewell Starlite, possessed of a magically-wonderful name I want as my own, and the leader of an Oakland, California-collective, Francis and the Lights, most certainly does.

“My City’s Gone” from the group’s debut album Farewell, Starlite – I see what you did there sir; well played, well played indeed! – is possessed of an incomparable emotional resonance that anchors the entire song through its melodically-meditative length.

Drawing on soft piano and electronic flourishes, that beautifully wed the digital and the organic, and with a star turn by Kanye West no less that adds a whole other element to this remarkably poignant song, “My City’s Gone” is exquisitely, transportively beautiful, one of those songs that feels like it is full of every heartfelt emotion that has ever coursed your veins.

He has his more upbeat moments too, which are equally as compelling but it’s this song that has my heart and I daresay yours too, not to mention a firm hold on the repeat button which you will press again and again, oh yes you will.

 

 

“Last Night in Los Feliz” by NIIA

 

NIIA (image via official Facebook page)

 

New York-based singer/songwriter/pianist NIIA, who hails originally from Needham, Massachusetts, has a commanding presence.

Songs like “Last Night in Feliz” may tend to happily occupy the 3am in a cosy jazz club end of the emotional spectrum but there is a richness to her mellifluously dusky voice which draws you in from the first note.

Much of that appeal comes from her ability to not simply sing but to invest each and every lyric with meaning and emotion in a way that elevates the song and makes them immersive experiences that you are loathe to pull yourself away from.

And in case you think you don’t have five minutes to devote to this amazing song and the talented artist who gives it delightful life, here’s We Are the Guard to explain why you should hang around, and listen and FEEL:

“The track is a slow-grooving banger full of articulate instrumentation that serves as the perfect platform to showcase her smoky-smooth vocals. Things kick off with lonesome keys, echoing beats, and subtle atmospherics to amp up the tack’s haunting and moody feel. “I’m letting it/ yeah I’m letting it go” she admits over orchestral strings that swell into a slow, intoxicating groove that amps up after the 2:00 mark. Just when you think it’s about to end, the mood and intensity heats up with gorgeous backing vocals and menacing strings and soft percussion, that allow you to understand why this track is totally justified in being over 5 minutes in length.”

 

 

“2 AM” by Emma Sameth

 

Emma Sameth (image via official Emma Sameth Facebook page)

 

You know that time of the night, it’s different for everyone, when the cacophony of the day subsides, your mind finally lets go off the hamster wheel of thoughts that have been driving it all day, and you finally fall back and your unconscious finally gets to meander, ponder and think things through?

“2 AM”, with its chilled electronica, and Los Angeles-based Sameth’s ethereally lovely vocals, captures the dreamy thoughtfulness of that special time when your emotions and rational musings mingle together and you think of all the things that matter like someone’s beautiful presence in your life …

“2 in the morning/ faded like the rain/ falling in my bed room and I’m thinking about your face.”

This is my anthem for those quiet meditative moments when life becomes less pronounced, less strident and quite gorgeously moving in ways that may be hard and sad, quietly joyous and content, but always more than worthwhile.

 

 

“Looking For Knives” by DYAN

 

DYAN (image via official DYAN Facebook page)

 

DYAN (Alexis Marsh, Sam Jones and Daniel Dorff Jr), who hail from the US and Canada, aren’t afraid of tackling the issues of life head on.

“Looking For Knives” is emblematic of this artistic and emotional bravery, and the song that We Are the Guard describe as  “Slow-burning and exquisitely crafted” came from a real and confronting place says Marsh:

“I wanted out of a relationship with a good man. And there was no explaining why. It was the opposite of what I expected from myself, breaking a promise so easily. And it all felt very dark – anger, impatience, but sorrow above all. So we went after a sound to reflect that – keeping the arrangement clear up until the saxophone solo sort of explodes to finish the song.”

It conjures up all the emotions that DYAN is obviously seeking to articulate and then some, delivering up a song that perfectly sums up the contrary richness and perplexing nature of life with music that complements to a tee.

 

 

“Just Yet” by For Esmé

 

For Esmé (image via official For Esmé Facebook page)

 

There is a flurry of scattered beats at the start of “Just Yet” that skitters into a rumination that notes at one point that “pity is no place to place your bets”, cautioning against romanticising the mess of life.

These pithy bon mots which resonate with truthful observation of the difficult business of living are embedded in music that the Toronto threesome self-describe on their Facebook bio as “electro-organic dream pop”, a fitting description of music that seamlessly melds the analogue and the digital of life.

Their music and their poignantly-insightful lyrics remind us with every shuddering beat and melodic flourish that the world is a complicated placed and we would be wise to tread carefully and not assume too much.

Great lessons and all the better for being learned against music that is captivating, beautiful and truly rich and meaningful.

 

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Thanks to TheMusic.com.au, “Final Place to Call Your Home” featuring Jess Lean of The Brains Trust and Brisbane multi-instrumentalist Steve Tyssen (who wrote the track), is a track that fits beautifully into the feel and sound of today’s post, it’s beautiful guitar-based sound complementing a meaningful lyrical intent:

“It’s more or less a metaphor for the seemingly constant struggle to find yourself and find purpose in what you do. Most of the time we only remember good experiences, but I think it’s also the bad experiences that really make us who we are. The song is about taking risks and stepping closer to where you we want to be.”

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 2 – Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Latvia

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

CZECH REPUBLIC: “My Turn” by Martina Bárta

 

 

THE ARTIST
A relatively new stalwart of the jazz scene, who spends her time moving between Prague and Berlin (it’s a tough life for some), Martina is an artist who happily throws together the old and the new, respectful of tradition but just as ready to play around with its conventions too.

She also describes herself as an “extreme goat cheese lover”, which conjures up images of Martina, clad in bungy jumping gear, hurtling down into a great big vat of cheese, goats no doubt looking on askance. (You can only hope this makes it into her stage performance.)

But it’s not her dairy-based adventuring, nor her belief in the power of natural stones, placed handily on her chakra that people primarily know her for.

Leaping to the attention of the public, no doubt clad in goats cheese residue, on Czech TV, Martina has performed with the legendary Felix Slováček Big Band, appeared in the musical Robin Hood and participated in Sinatrology, a gala honouring Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.

She’s big in Germany, and has performed at jazz festivals pretty much everywhere but how will she fear on the biggest European stage of them all?

 

Martina Bárta (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Honestly it could go either way.

There’s an easy late night jazz feel to “My Turn”, which lopes along at an easy gait, anchored by Martina’s dusky emotionally-resonant voice and will benefit really nicely from well-judged staging.

Unfortunately the song sounds like a little too easy listening 101, the kind of pleasant but unremarkable song that is a staple of golden oldie radio stations the world over, its impact dissipating in the almost inevitable ad break that follows.

Pretty yes and beautifully sung, but lacking any real cut through or substance, dooming the Czech Republic to a semi final berth only in all likelihood.

 

 

FINLAND: “Blackbird” by Norma Jean

 

 

THE ARTIST
While most friends are content to spend their time going to concerts or movies, or having Mimosa-fuelled brunches at a hip cafe somewhere, Lasse and Leena, who are described as “musical soul mates” have opted instead to form an indie pop duo called Norma Jean (perhaps a nod to the dearly departed Marilyn?)

Spending their non-brunch expended time writing their own songs for 15 years – that’s a lot of missed bagels and Eggs Benedict right there – Norma Jean invest their music with an epic, cinematic grandeur and some well-placed quirky humour, which, as the Russian grandmothers demonstrated some time back, can go a long way in Eurovision-land.

Like many acts before, beavering away in relative anonymity as far as the wider world is concerned, Lasse and Leena decided that Eurovision would the perfect platform to take things to the next level, handsomely winning the Contest for New Music (UMK), Finland’s selection contest, to get there.

So ambitions outlined and achieved, but is their song “Blackbird” sufficiently robust and enticing to give them the success they seek?

 

Norma Jean (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Leaving aside Leena’s obvious dislike of Finland’s birdlife, “Blackbird” is poignantly emotionally redolent, a soft though intensely dark exploration of loss and the reminders of what once was.

Lyrically, it’s as rich and meaningful as it gets, speaking of the bleaker times of life while a suitably drawn back but sweetly-expressed melody plays on – most pronounced in the exquisite bridge which generates an insane number of goosebumps and lumps in the throat – with the song captivating you from start to finish in ways that entrance the heart and the mind all at once.

This is a deeply-moving, touching song that you have to be dead not to be affected by and while it’s not, in some ways, typical Eurovision fare, it could be a real standout on the night.

I can only hope that people open their hearts to this immensely beautiful, affecting song, which deserves to do exceptionally well.

 

 

GEORGIA: “Keep the Faith” by Tako Gachechiladze

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently if you’re holding a concert in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, it’s almost mandatory to have Tamara Gachechiladze aka Tako appear on the bill; I don’t think you get fined if you don’t, but she seems, by all accounts, to be a near-permanent fixture on the city’s calendar of musical events.

And why not? She’s a talented lady who has appeared, according to her Eurovision bio, at “international jazz festivals [and] numerous festivals and concerts” as well as participating in the World Youth Delphic Games.”

No doubt, thus armed with more frequent flyer miles that you can count, she competed in the 2015 series of TV talent show Your Voice Sounds Familiar, and has been a soloist in the Tbilisi Concert Orchestra since 1997.

That’s quite the CV to which you can add coming *this* close to being Georgia’s entrant in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest as part of the group Stephane and 3G – Georgia withdrew when their song choice was deemed too political – a bleak spot on an otherwise shining career, now remedied by making the cut this year as a solo performer.

The big question is … drum roll please … now she’s in the Eurovision club, does she have the song to fulfill her stated wish of “[making] my country more famous and [letting] the world listen to my voice” ?

 

Tamara Gachechiladze (image courtesy official Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
I wish I could say emphatically yes.

The truth is, while she is possessed of a fine voice and impressive stage presence, “Keep the Faith” sounds like a Bond theme that didn’t make the grade, ending up on the cutting room floor.

That said, it’s not a bad song, with some quite dramatic build-up and melodic density that could really stand out with a stunning performance, much like Austria’s Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like a Phoenix” did in 2014.

But it doesn’t rise above the pack significantly enough to really make it presence felt which will likely mean a grand final berth but no glittering trophy at the end.

 

 

GREECE: “This is Love” by Demy

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you’ve ever harboured the dream of doing something awe-inspiringly amazing with your life, but let it sink beneath the weight of life’s obligations and good old time’s inertia, then best you look away now.

For Greece’s entry this year to Eurovision, Demy (known to her no doubt doting parents as Dimitra Papadea) has not only dreamed her big dream, she’s made a reality, going from wanting to win Best New Artist at the MAD Video Music Awards in 2011 to actually pulling off the feat in 2012.

As well as being a music awards prodigy, Demy is a singer and a piano player, with myriad musical influences from jazz and soul to rock n’ roll and r’n’b and a e bent for multitasking which is handy because she is also starring in musicals, collaborating with a who’s who of the Greek music industry and studying law (it’s the family business and a great fallback should the awards gravy train ever dry up).

So being that crazy busy, does she have time for Eurovision – I am fairly certain the answer to that is “YES!” – and will her song “This is Love” catapult her away from law and onward to a glittering worldwide music career?

 

Demy (image courtesy official Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Quite possibly.

Granted the song is not out of the box extraordinary – you’ve heard a tune like this at a thousand clubs before – but it’s infectiously upbeat, let down only by Demy’s relatively weak vocals (when you compare her to her fellow entrants and even the usual dancefloor divas).

Throw in some visual bling and some hunky Greek backup dancers, who seems to grow like vine leaves in great profusion, and you’ll likely have a kickass semi final stunner that will have everyone dancing and voting up a storm.

Whether it can win the grand final itself is another matter entirely; I suspect not since, fun though it is to listen to, it’s missing that mysterious “x” ingredient that could vault to true immortal Eurovision greatness.

 

 

ICELAND: “Paper” by Svala

 

 

THE ARTIST
In the under-achieving life stakes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Svala aka Kali from Iceland who has, in her 40 years of life on Earth, only managed to launch a singing at age 7, become a storied songwriter, a judge on The Voice, a fashion icon and a global touring star.

Of course I’m kidding about Svala Björgvinsdóttir, the daughter of legendary pop star Bo Halldorsson who has amassed a slew of chart-topping songs, made it big in the USA as a solo artist and as a member of Steed Lord, the band she formed in 2006, and made a name for herself with her husband as the crator of artistically cutting edge music videos.

Impressed yet? You should be; so it makes perfect sense that she’s been chosen as Iceland’s entrant with the only remaining question being why on Earth this didn’t happen years ago?

So she has the runs on the board, with her new band Blissful striking almost instant success – do you feel like your life is a lacklustre piece of mediocrity yet? Give it time – but will all this stellar success translate to Eurovision glory?

 

Svala (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
YES, and again I say YES.

“Paper” is deliciously idiosyncratic, pulled forward by pulsating beats, a snaking melody that wraps itself in and around the lyrics that are sung with a husky purring brilliance by Svala.

This is a song with build, chutzpah and presence and it’s damn near impossible to imagine a scenario where this doesn’t totally own the stage at Eurovision.

Given Svala’s fashion and visual aesthetics nous, count on “Paper” not only sounding brilliant at Eurovision, but looking astoundingly good.

Count on Iceland being one of the standout wow moments of this year’s event.

 

 

LATVIA: “Line” by Triana Park

 

 

THE ARTIST
Triana Park are not your grandmother’s all genres band (unless your granny is super hip in which case then, they totally are).

Made up of founder and vocalist Agnese Rakovska, and Arturs Strautins (guitar), Edgars Vilums (drums) and Kristaps Erglis (bass), Latvia’s entrant for Eurovision this year favour extravagant performances, avant garde personal style and a love of multiple, mashed-up musical genres including pop, electronic and hints of hip-hop and rock.

Having made a number for themselves at festivals across Latvia and the world with appearances at SXSW (USA), Eurosonic Noordeslag (The Netherlands) and Waves Vienna (Austria) to their credit, they are, so their bio says, and why woudl we doubt it, for “explosive live performances, always filled with energy.”

Not only that but they love to eat apparently with banana pancakes with Nutella a particular favourite.

Well-fed then and possessed of a pushing-the-artistic-envelope mentality, could they be the next Lordi (who won Eurovision in 2006 with “Hard Rock Hallelujah”?

 

Triana Park (image courtesy official Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Almost but not quite.

While the song is an addictive break-the-mould song with some interesting vocal flourishes, a driving, pulsating melody that rarely pauses for breath and some really clever electronic production accoutrements, I’m not sure it’s got the goods to take out the big prize.

Again, it lacks that elusive “x” factor but honestly it’s only a matter of degrees.

It’s one of the more interesting songs on offer in this year’s competition and will provide a nice break from the many earnest ballads.

Look for Triana Park to use “Line” to dance their way out of the semi final but likely nothing more; suffice to say, irrespective of their placing, they’re guaranteed to offer up a memorable performance.

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 1 – Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Cyprus

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

ALBANIA: “World” by Lindita

 

 

THE ARTIST
A clear proponent of the one-name pop moniker – and why not since it’s worked for Madonna, Rihanna and Cher? – Lindita (full name: Lindita Hallimi) is a woman with many ticks on her bucket list.

Grabbing fame by the proverbial short and curlies with a win in Top Fest with the song “Ëndërroja” (I dreamed), the 27 year old from Vitina, Kosovo, has also competed in American Idol (she made the top 25) and been a finalist in Albanian Idol, proving (possibly) that you can never be in too many reality TV shows.

Possessed of the ability to sing in 10 languages, which would make asking for directions in a foreign country, if you were travelling with her, akin to being in an MGM musical, she’s won a slew of awards, locally, nationally and internationally, and after a number of attempts, and most importantly for our purposes here, emerged triumphant at Festivali i Këngës, the Albanian selection process for Eurovision.

Musical fame? TICK! Wait, not so fast; she’s done well to date, no doubt but can she rise to the top at Eurovision, competing with Europe’s presumed best?

 

Lindita (image courtesy official Lindita Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
While her lucky pre-stage routine of eating eggs and drinking hot tea with honey may play a part, it’s the song by Klodian Qafoku, who competed in Eurovision in 2006, that will really be the determining factor.

As songs go, this one opens with a portentous flourish, building as it goes on with an ever-escalating goosebump-inducing climb up the Deeply Emotional Ballad-o-Meter, hitting its stride in the chorus with an epic Bond theme-like pounding sensibility.

This is music meant for maximum impact, and coupled with Lindita’s impressive set of pipes, which more than rise to the occasion, it’s bound to make an impact.

Granted, it’s not an out-of-the-park winner, but it’s not your average connect-the dots-, snooze through the bridge kind of ballad either and if Lindita’s success on stage at myriad contest attests, she’s got the ability to make a lasting impression.

Expect to see this lady in the Grand Final, hopefully all dried out after her underwater musical romp.

 

 

ARMENIA: “Fly With Me” by Artsvik

 

 

THE ARTIST
Clearly enamoured of keeping things simple when it comes to professional nom de guerres, and remember Eurovision is a contest, not an amateur hour, every contestant gets a prize undertaking, Artsvik Harutyunyan, born in Kapan, in what was then the Armenian SSR, prefers to be known by her first name only.

Given her success so far in life, where music has ruled with a lilting and well-modulated fist save for a brief detour to study as a speech therapist psychologist – she should therefore be busy lending her services, should she so desire, backstage at Eurovision –  sticking to a singular moniker makes perfect sense.

It’s a neat way to cap off a lifetime of “singing [and] creating melodies” (inspired by her idol Whitney Houston), which led her to move to Moscow, compete in The Voice of Russia and winning the hearts and minds of Russians with a mix of covers and originals such as “Why, No Fear”, “I Say Yes” and “Сестры по духу”.

But while you can take the aspiring female singer out of Armenia – technically she took herself but let’s not argue semantics here – you can’t take Armenia out of the woman and so in 2016, she moved home, wowed the musical powers that be in the national Eurovision selection contest, Depi Evratesil, and now stands on the cusp of pan-European greatness (which sounds suitably dramatic for a woman of her presence and persistence).

 

Artsvik (image courtesy official Artsvik Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Clearly deeply impacted by all that travelling, Artsvik has opted for a song called “Fly With Me” by Lilith Navasardyan and Levon Navasardyan, which whips itself down the runway with tribal determination, a mix of gently beating drums and a winsome melody, but fails to really make it into the air.

It’s pretty assuredly and possessed of the requisite earnestness and mentions of “love lifting us high” but it never really goes anywhere of consequence.

Rather than soaring to the heights, with Cupid’s more idealistic sibling as its travelling companion, it circles the airport, rather attractively it must be said, a few times, has a go at revving to life itself into the air – those opening bars coupled with Artsvik’s artfully-evocative whispers promise so much – it never really moves beyond idling.

It’s a pity really because Artsvik clearly has a great voice and a stage presence, not to mention a naturally ability for moving in military-like precision with her backing dancers, but in this case the song is likely to only get her as fast as the semi-final, stymieing her obviously high-flung professional travel plans.

 

 

AUSTRALIA: “Don’t Come Easy” by Isaiah

 

 

THE ARTIST
The first indigenous male to represent Australia at Eurovision – this is the country’s third year competing in the contest – Isaiah Firebrace, who has also embraced the solo name moniker for professional purposes, has “big dreams”.

So motivated is he in fact that he left his hometown of Moama (pop. 5000) in southern New South Wales, and flew to Sydney, his first flight anywhere to compete in the eighth season of X-Factor, where he did very nicely thank you, winning with performances of songs by Beyoncé and Avicii.

Not content with conquering the stages of Sydney (and the charts of the world with his debut single “It’s Gotta Be You” making a splash worldwide), the talented 17 year old is now off to the bright stages of the Eurovision Song Contest, something which understandably excites this small town boy:

“Because it’s the biggest stage in the world! It’s an extra special honour as an indigenous teenager to represent my country of Australia and inspire young kids around Australia (and the world) that no matter how young you are or where your from you can dare to dream.”

But will his song “Don’t Come Easy” realise the starry-eyed Eurovision dreams of Australia?

 

Isaiah (image courtesy official Isaiah Firebrace Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Yes and no … possibly.

If that all sounds equivocal, and shame on me as an Aussie for not being unabashedly, shamelessly parochial, it’s because while Isaiah’s got a killer, deeply emotionally-evocative voice that stands to repeat the successes of Guy Sebastian (2015) and Dami Im (2016), the song itself is little inert.

It’s not that “Don’t Come Easy” by doesn’t have a beating pulse, redolent with some lovely stirring moments by DNA (David Musumeci & Anthony Egizii) and Michael Angelo, and some sage words about love being something easily acquired,it never gains attraction.

In fact, it comes perilously close to sounding like something you’d hear at a higher-end cabaret club where the music is reasonably formulaic; well done sure but hardly out of the box extraordinary.

The one wildcard here could be the live performance where Isaiah has shown he’s got the presence and the voice to really make an impression.

You can only hope it all comes brilliantly together on the night, or he maybe adding to his nascent frequent flier career a little earlier than he bargained.

 

 


AZERBAIJAN: “Skeletons” by DiHaj

 

 

THE ARTIST
The member of an electronic music collective named Dihaj, Diana Hajiyeva, who has won awards and performed at music festivals such as Women in Paradise in Amsterdam, has some serious musical training under her belt.

Not only did she graduate from the Baku Music Academy in 2010, but she also spent time in London studying at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, where when she the time she wasn’t hitting the books (playing the charts? The music college equivalent eludes me), she performed in a progressive trance trio Looper & Mancus.

That inclination to sit on the bleeding cutting edge is in evidence in pretty much everything she does, with the tried and true often discarded in favour of pushing the boundaries as far as they will stretch.

 

DiHaj (image courtesy official DiHaj Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It’s very much in evidence on “Skeletons” which draws most assuredly from what music critics have apparently labelled “experimental doom pop” which according to her official Eurovision bio seamlessly blends “post-rock guitar riffs, semi-acoustic drum set and atmospheric vocals”.

It is certainly one of the standout tracks of the contest, delivering a darkly, melodically ethereal musical experience that should make for quite the presentation on the stage of the Kyiv International Exhibition Centre.

From its haunting opening bars, which drip with anticipation to its swelling chorus and choir-like vocals, this is a song that breaks the mould and confirms that Dihaj is not going to be your run of the mill Eurovision performer, something the singer herself acknowledges:

“I do understand that I’m not a typical Eurovision singer. So it’s crucial for me to stay true to myself in everything I do in the next few months.”

You can only hope that the good people of Europe will embrace this delightfully stark difference and vote for her idiosyncratic song choice and performance, a more than welcome break from the usual paint-by-earnest-numbers ballads.

 

 

BELGIUM: “”Citylights” by Blanche

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be someone’s muse, you may want to start up a conversation with Ellie Delvaux, who like all of the artists in this initial group of reviews, goes by a single musical sobriquet, Blanche.

The singer/songwriter’s voice so impressed fellow music artist Pierre Dumoulin that he began writing songs before the two had even got past “Well, hello”; fortunately for Pierre, he and Blanche got on famously from the word go and joined up with Tim Bran who has worked with the likes of London Grammar, Aurora and Birdy.

All of which means that Blanche who can, by her own account, “move one of [her] toes telepathetically”, and did rather well for herself on The Voice Belgique in 2016 where she was on Team Cats on Trees (best name ever), is in the box seat when it comes to creative collaboration.

 

Blanche (image courtesy official Blanche Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
What you need to remember of course is that Blanche, while possessed of brilliant professional company, has impressive talents of her own.

Chief among them is her utterly distinctive husky voice which her Eurovision profile refers to as “fragile and melancholic”, and which is so memorably unique that it invests “City Lights” already atmospherically rich with a whole new ethereal lustre.

Throw in some stunning stage choreography a la Loreen and Blanche could be a real showstopper, proving that you can be utterly different and still go a long way.

Expect this to push Belgium into the bright spotlight of the Grand Final, but even if it fails to do that, and I can see that happening, this is one of the best songs from an Eurovision entrant in years.

 

 

CYPRUS: “Gravity” by Hovig

 

 

THE ARTIST
There is, quite clearly, a syllable shortage in Europe since Cyprus’s entry, Hovig, has also dispensed with a full stage name in keeping with his Eurovision contemporaries.

But that’s about the only thing that this artist of Armenian heritage, known to the government as Hovig Demirjian, is short on, having ambition and a musically prodigious inclination in spades.

He kicked off his performing career in clubs at the tender age of 16 – which let’s be fair is practically middle-aged in this Justin Bieber-led day and age – a choice which so informed his life that he ditched his marketing studies opting instead for a jazz music course.

So he has the power of self-belief, positivity and ambition to his credit, and now after failing to get the nod from state broadcaster CyBC in 2010 and 2015, he is also the officially internally chosen entrant for Cyprus in this year’s contest.

 

Hovig (image courtesy official Hovig Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
But does his song “Gravity” reward CyBC decision to forget a musical dog-eat-dog selection process in favour of parachuting Hovig into the coveted entrant slot?

Yes and no.

It’s catchy in its own way, and yes it’s reasonably of the moment and “modern” as Hovig himself notes when asked about the song.

But that’s it’s Achilles Heel too – it sounds like too much else out there and a tad too redolent of some past Eurovision entries as if composter Thomas G:son wrote to spec, assembling the song from constituent pieces.

It’s not by any stretch a bad song and will likely do very well, helped by Hovig’s strong, emotionally-voice and impressive stage presence, but it’s not the be all and end of all of songs and may not go the distance.

 

Now this is music #85: Bad Wave, Rubblebucket, Deidre & the Dark, Fufanu, Grace Mitchell (+ Eurovision 2017 news)

 

In those moments when life seems just a little too complicated for its own good, or more pertinently, ours, you might wish that things were a whole lot simpler.

And while, yes, there’s a good case to be made for a simple life, there’s a lot to be said for going through the fire, grappling with the dark and uncertain times’ if only because it means the good times, and they will come, look so much sweeter.

These five artists appreicate well the power of darkness and light, joy and sadness, and it informs their songs in powerful and ultimately brilliantly listenable ways.

As a soundtrack to the business of living, it’s hard to beat them.

 

“Daniel” by Bad Wave

 

Bad Wave (image via official Bad Wave Facebook page)

 

Singer Tucker Tota and instrumentalist Patrick Hart, who kicked off LA-based Bad Wave last year with “Look Out”, in the process launching themselves as an undeniably off-the-moment pop duo, sure know how to make impending catastrophe sound invitingly melodic.

Suffused with a minor key aesthetic, this muscularly intense song is as catchy as they come, kicking off with a richly ethereal intro that builds and builds into a song lush with dark intent and invitingly beautiful execution.

It embodies a very Scandinavian creative mindset, combining lyrical dark and musical light, a contrast that lends the song a weight far beyond the average light, if enjoyable, pop song.

This is pop with lure and intelligence, underscoring why Bad Wave have become so popular so quickly – they create retro-influenced music that is instantly memorable but which will, without a doubt, stand the fickle test of time.

 

 

“Not Cut Out For This” by Rubblebucket

 

Rubblebucket (image via official Rubblebucket Facebook page)

 

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re not quite ready or able to cope with everything coming at you?

Rubblebucket, based in Brooklyn, New York, certainly do, making it clear, with deliriously upbeat jaunty horn intro and darkly-pounding main melody, that “we’re not cut out for love”.

Comprised of Kalmia Traver (vocals/baritone saxophone), Alex Toth (trumpet/vocals), Dandy McDowell (bass), Maddie Rice (guitar), and Adam Dotson (trombone), the band is eminently, convincingly self-aware, draped in musical clothing that the ever-excellent The Revue calls “upbeat, dreamy and feel good.”

It neatly encapsulates life itself in a lot of ways – promising, happy and giddily attractive on the surface, with some sage, thoughtful and negative undercurrents you can’t quite escape.

That combination may not always make for the smoothest and trouble-free of existential conditions but as a pop song, it’s sublime.

 

 

“Which Way” by Deidre & the Dark

 

Deidre & the Dark (Image via official Deidre & the Dark Facebook page)

 

Sporting the lushly evocative vocals of former Savoir Faire member Deidre Muno, “Which Way” is delightfully ’60s-inspired retro in overall sound, combining an enticing drumbeat, ethereally-removed vocals and an optimistic outlook that “we can begin again, taking the time to do it right.”

This is the soundtrack for someone on the cusp of great things, hope springing eternal and life ripe with possibilities, a zingy, upbeat slice of perfect that deftly uses it dreamily upbeat feel and Muno’s divinely-gorgeous vocals, which sound fey and light but come with ripe, muscular emotive drive to sing of someone hoping for good things to happen on the next go-around.

There’s no way of knowing if any of this giddy optimism will play out as hoped and expected but frankly caught in the heady rush of New York-based Deidre & the Dark’s brightly-shimmering pop perfection, you pretty much believe it’s all going to play out as advertised.

After all, who can listen to a song this brilliantly catchy and not expect life to be deliciously good in every possible way?

 

 

“Liability” by Fufanu

 

Fufanu (image via official Fufanu Facebook page)

 

Sprinting across the Atlantic and swinging up north with vigorous heft, Fufanu, who call Iceland’s blissfully quirky capital Reykjavik home, deliver up electronic music with melodic attractiveness and driving, unceasing grunt.

Channeling what The Revue neatly, and correctly observes, “a sound that comes from the deep caverns of Berlin and Manchester of the early to mid-’70s”, the band invest “Liability” is stunningly good, combining all sorts of undeniable influences that create its own thoroughly unique driving, dark sound.

Taking “the industrial vibes of Kraftwerk and the dark post-punk that Joy Division elevated and more recently Preoccupations” (The Revue again), Fufanu give this classic vibe a modern twist, mixing a bright electronic sensibility with the earthy grounding of guitars, drums and edgy vocals, in the process handing us a song that is its own enticingly bleak yet crunchingly upbeat animal.

It’s a typically Scandinavian ability to throw the positive and negative together in a winning combination that like so much of really good pop rock mirrors the contradictions, and lure, of life itself.

 

 

“Kids (Ain’t All Right) by Grace Mitchell

 

Grace Mitchell (image via official Grace Mitchell Facebook page)

 

Now this is how you do precociousness.

Portland, Oregon-raised Grace Mitchell has devoted her teenage years to crafting some drivingly intense rock that takes no prisoners, snarls, postures and growls with intelligence and melodic richness, that recalls grunge’s culture-spanning heyday.

And as The Revue once again perfectly sums up, it has a lot going for it.

“‘Kids (Ain’t All Right)’ is an edgy, menacing rocker. Mitchell’s deep, soulful vocals undergo a transformation, resonating with the power and coarseness of the great Shirley Manson (Garbage). The song, as a whole, recalls Courtney Love’s Hole but with a touch of modern noise-pop a la Sleigh Bells and the garage-rock of Drenge. ‘Kid “Ain’t All Right’ is an awesome, fierce song that could be the iGen’s anthem like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was for Gen X-ers.”

That’s an awful lot of inordinately great boxes ticked, angst and emotional disquiet channelled to devastatingly good effect accompanied by music that refuses to lie down and take a nap, delivering its concerted opposition with a fantastically attractive melody that powers the song.

This is music with raw, sweet, intense nerve, proving that it’s possible to evoke the past without becoming its prisoner, creating in the process music that crosses generational divides and life outlooks with ease, melody and a chutzpah that belies its creator’s young years.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Almost every country competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest have chosen their national representative with the latest crop coming from the three Scandinavian countries – Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

First up is Svala with her song “Paper” who will be representing Iceland. (read more)

 

 

Next up to the glittery stage is Norway’s JOWST who are urging us all to “Grab the Moment”. (read more)

 

 

And finally, Sweden who have crowned Robin Bengtsson with his song “I Can’t Go On” (a pity since he pretty much has to) as their entrant. (read more)

 

 

 

Elsewhere in musicland, P!NK and Sia have combined forces with Norwegian production team Stargate for a catchy new song “Waterfall” (read more)