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
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
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
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
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
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)