Friday, 16 March 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 1) - Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Australia, Denmark, Moldova.


Yes, just when you thought I had finally given up on this blog, the power of Eurovision compelled me to come back. It is no secret that I love Eurovision, so this year I thought I'd try to expand my coverage beyond just a few posts before the final.

What many people don't know is that there's way more to Eurovision than just the big show on a Saturday night in mid-May. Indeed, the Eurovision Song Contest is actually a 5-month affair starting from the first national selection shows for entries in January and concluding with post-final analysis in May. Though many don't tune in until the very end, nerds like me follow the process from start to finish, including streaming various native-language semi finals on Saturday nights...instead of going out and socialising like a regular person.

Anyway, I did all that for the past couple of months so you don't have to, you're welcome! Fast forward to the 12th of March, and we finally have our 43 participating entries - a combination of national final winners and internally-selected artists, culminating in one of the most linguistically and stylistically diverse contests we've seen in recent years, with 14 non-English languages being represented and genres ranging from metal, opera and ethno-folk to your typical Eurovision power ballads and eurobangers. There is truly something for everyone.

Inspired by one of my favourite Eurovision content providers, ESCInsight, I have decided to adopt a similar format to their excellent 'Jukebox Jury' podcast series, in which a panel come together to discuss 6-7 entries per week in the run-up to the contest, and judge them by an arbitrary 'Hit', 'Miss' or 'Maybe' scale. So with eight weeks to go, I will be reviewing 3 songs from each semi final every Friday (hopefully), before writing up some predictions for the semi and grand final shows during Eurovision week. It's a daunting task but I love talking about Eurovision, so I'm determined to see this through.

So without further ado...

Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall"

Semi final: 1
My score: 7/10
Chances of qualifying: 4.5/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No.

As the first song selected for this year's contest, I've had plenty of time for Albania's entry to gradually grow on me. Unfortunately for Eugent, you only have one shot to impress voters across Europe, and I fear that this isn't instant enough to compel people vote this into the final. Albania's Festivali i Këngës was one of the few national selections that I didn't follow at all, so I cannot say that there were any more competitive alternatives, especially considering Albania's past entries (no shade, I like a lot of them).

As for positives, I love that Albania is finally sending a song in Albanian, instead of selecting great native language song and butchering it by translating it into English...badly. Unfortunately for them, a lot of other countries got the same memo and this year now has one of the most diverse set of songs we've had in ages, with double the number of native language entries than we had last year.

In summary, this is a good song by a great vocalist, but unfortunately, Armenia are in the same semi final with a better draw, a better song and a better singer. Semi final 1 is a bloodbath of a semi final, so I don't see this making the final, which is a shame.

Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart"

Semi final: 1
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 6/10
Can it make the top 10? Highly doubt it.
Can it win? No.

This is a difficult one. Azerbaijan is one of the strongest and most consistent participating Eurovision countries, having never failed to qualify in its 10-year history at the contest. However, this song is uncharacteristically weak by Azeri standards - it's generic, it's a bit basic and it's a waste of an excellent and talented artist, who could've brought something really spectacular to the contest if she stuck to her usual style of ethno-jazz. Oh, and the lyrics are AWFUL...

All that being said, this is a bop. The chorus is one of the most instant out of all the 43 songs and I have no doubt that Aisel's fantastic vocals will elevate this when it gets to Lisbon. As I said earlier, semi 1 is a bloodbath and there are no guarantees, so Azerbaijan need to pull their finger out, or else this could easily not qualify in such a strong selection of entries. The fact that they revamped the production merely days after its first release tells me that the delegation itself is as worried as I am. Will this be Azerbaijan's first ever non-qualifier? It will depend on the staging...

Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever"

Semi final: 1
My score: 6/10
Chances of qualifying: 4/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No.

From an excellent vocalist to...Belarus' Alekseev. The instrumental for this song is actually kinda great - very Eastern, very's just a shame that he cannot seem to be able to sing a single note in-tune live. I'm not a fan of his vocals even when he's autotuned to shit in the studio cut, so maybe his voice just isn't for me...?

With better male singers in this semi and a lack of potential for Eastern Bloc voting...I really don't see this qualifying, despite this being bizarrely popular with fans. His staging in the national selection was the only thing I liked about this, so maybe that could carry him through? But I sincerely hope it doesn't, because the man cannot fucking sing.

Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love"

Semi final: 2
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? It's a long shot, but I'm not gonna rule it out completely.

Before I talk about the song, lemme just get some ground rules out of the way - no one is allowed to ask 'wait, what is Australia doing at the Eurovision??!' anymore. It has been four years, it's beyond tired at this point. Quite frankly, I don't care what new country participates, as long as they bring quality entries (which Australia do - mostly) and they're members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) (which Australia are), I have no complaints.

Last year, their entry was terrible, got a measly 2 points from the televote and yet got dragged all the way to the top 10 by the damn juries. This year, I sincerely hope that they can get the backing of the televote like they did back in 2016. Since Jessica is a seasoned and charismatic performer with an anthemic slice of empowerment pop, I think they might just do that. I wouldn't be surprised if this ended up being Australia's 4th top 10 entry in a row. I didn't even particularly care for this when I first heard it, but now it has become stuck in my head and I cannot seem to get it out - which for a Eurovision song is almost always a good sign...

Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground"

Semi final: 2
My score: 8.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 9/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Yes, I think this is a dark horse.

If you were wondering what Tormund Giantsbane was doing to pass the time now that Game of Thrones is on a two-year break, you now have your answer. In one of the rare moments where my pick to win actually won, I was delighted to see this viking bop triumph in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix back in February. I heard the studio cut in the run up to the selection and I was instantly hooked by its polished production and sweeping chorus. 

This is anthemic, epic, fresh and has a broad, universal appeal that I believe will see it sail (ha) straight into the final and quite possibly into the top 10 on Saturday night. They haven't nailed the staging quite yet, but with the stage in Lisbon literally being in the shape of a boat, I have faith that the staging will be as epic as this song deserves.

Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day"

Semi final: 2
My score: 8/10
Chances of qualifying: 7.5/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes, whether you want it to or not.
Can it win? No.

Okay, unpopular opinion but I bloody love this. Frequently found at the bottom of most fans' rankings this year, I place this ditty in my top 20. Sure, this may not be particularly fresh or current, and yes, it's incredibly cheesy...but a bop is a bop. I would even go as far as to say that the chorus is one of the best in the competition this year - it's huge and insanely catchy.

This is a lot of fun and the staging concept will for sure help this to stand out. Nobody expected Moldova's entry last year (the banger that is 'Hey Mamma') to do particularly well, and yet it finished in the top 3. In a semi final full of lacklustre songs and ballads, I can see this standing out from the pack and booking Moldova yet another spot in the final.

So there you have it! 6 down, 37 to week I will be reviewing 6 more entries and rating their chances in the contest. And because I love making lists, here's a bunch of 'em:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
1. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
2. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
3. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
2. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
3. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5

Overall ranking so far (by personal score)
1. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
2. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
3. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
4. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
5. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
6. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

My top 50 albums of 2017

It's been quite the year, hasn't it? I'm sure my lack of posts will tell you that this has been an extremely busy year for me. I've still managed to find the time to write for my student newspaper, including reviews for Kelela's Take Me Apart and Tegan and Sara's The Con X Covers album.

I often hear people complain about political music and argue that music and politics should be kept separate. Quite frankly, that is an opinion for the privileged and for the weak. Art is and has always been a reflection of the world around us and when the world is in turmoil, music should reflect that. But, you know, feel free to listen to 'relatable' multimillionaire Ed Sheeran sing about necking ciders on a park bench with his mates and sharing strawberry laces with his crush or whatever the fuck people enjoy listening to, I guess. 

At a time where the mere existence of women, queer people and people of colour (especially those with intersectional oppressions) has been politicised, seeing artists who identify with those labels coming out fighting and showing excellence has been a joy to see. 

Honourable Mentions 
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
Emily Haines - Choir Of The Mind
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruin
Anna of the North - Lovers
Torres - Three Futures
Shugo Takumara - TOSS
Alex Lahey - I Love You Like A Brother
Katie Von Schleicher - Shitty Hits

50. Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination 
49. Tei Shi - Crawl Space 
48. Julien Baker - Turn Out The Lights
47. Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger In The Alps
46. Molly Burch - Please Be Mine
45. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life
44. Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
43. Briana Marela - Call It Love
42. Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular
41. Ibeyi - Ashes

40. EMA - Exile In The Outer Ring
39. Vagabon - Infinite Worlds 
38. Austra - Future Politics
37. HAIM - Something To Tell You 
36. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
35. George Maple - Lover
34. Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy 
33. Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble
32. Carmen Villain - Infinite Avenue
31. King Krule - The Ooz

30. Arca - Arca
29. Alvvays - Antisocialites
28. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
27. Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
26. SZA - CTRL
25. Tegan and Sara - The Con X Covers
24. Charli XCX - Number 1 Angel
23. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
22. Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
21. Hundred Waters - Communicating

20. Aldous Harding - Party
19. The xx - I See You
18. London Grammar - The Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
17. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
16. Zola Jesus - Okovi
15. Lydia Ainsworth - Darling of the Afterglow
14. Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm 
13. Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds From Another Planet 
12. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
11. Perfume Genius - No Shape 

10. Fever Ray - Plunge

Fever Ray's self-titled debut is one of my favourite albums of all time and this somehow met the impossibly high expectations I set for its follow-up. From the brash aggressiveness of 'Wanna Sip', to the twinkling sapphic synths of 'To The Moon And Make' and the Baltic, cinematic curveball of 'Red Trails'; Karin gave me everything I wanted.

Highlights: Wanna Sip, To The Moon And Back, Red Trails

9. Tove Lo - Blue Lips

I was seriously debating whether I should be putting such a recent album this high in my but I came to the conclusion that I would still adore this if it came out months before. I've been following Tove for years now (she has also been following me for years now...on Twitter, that is), but Lady Wood (her last album) nearly turned me off her entirely. Thankfully 'Disco Tits' came along and now I'm full back on board. To my surprise and delight, she came through with an album full of tracks of the same quality. 

Highlights: Disco Tits, Bitches, Hey You Got Drugs?

8. MUNA - About U

At a time where synthpop is often looked down upon and deemed 'generic', 'hollow' and 'meaningless', LA rising stars MUNA come along with one of the most polished and consistent debuts of the year. Packed full of huge choruses, shimmering melodies and powerful lyrics, About U carries a punch. Aside from 'After' being bland and unnecessary, this album is perfect. 

Highlights: So Special, Around U, Everything 

7. Valerie June - The Order Of Time

I have been waiting for the follow-up to Valerie's Pushin' Against a Stone for years and she finally came through with exactly what I wanted - a more polished and evolved version of her already pretty-darn-great sound. I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Valerie perform this live back in the summer and it was honestly one of my favourite gigs I've ever been too.

Highlights: Shakedown, Astral Plane, Got Soul 

6. Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life 

I love everything this women does (literally, everything) but this might just be the best body of work she has put out so far. Lust For Life is one long-ass album and yet it doesn't drag to me. There is structure and there is purpose to the sequencing and every song has its place - from the trap-infused first half to the acoustica reflective 60s sheen of the second half; this is the first time Lana seemingly knows what she's doing and executes that fully. Gone is the girl singing about 'daddies' in a 'red dress under the pale moonlight' and here is a woman taking on the fucked up world we inhabit. I'm so proud to see it. 

Highlights: Love, Cherry, Get Free

5. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens

A bit of techno, anyone? I think it's high time that someone the genre fused techno with a pop sensibility and Kelly has done just that. 'Techno has no vocals!' Kelly sings all over this mf thing. 'Techno is boring!' Listen to Lucid. 'Techno has no hooks!' Listen to Throwing Lines. This is the best electronic album of the year, hands down. 

Highlights: Lucid, C.B.M, Throwing Lines

4. Sampha - Process

I actually forgot this came out this year until someone on campus started playing '(No One Knows Me) Like My Piano' on a public piano and I was suddenly transported back to February. My taste in music can be deemed misandrist (clock there being like...7 men in my entire top 50), but I adore everything about this album. The production is gorgeous, this voice is incredible and the songwriting is second-to-none. 

Highlights: Blood On Me, Kora Sings, (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano

3. Lorde - Melodrama

After a rocky-ass roll out, I'm still astounded at how good this record ended up being. I wasn't too sure about any of the singles at first and yet somehow they all suddenly became incredible the moment I pressed play on the album? It manages to be relatable to me in this exact point in my life without being try hard. The lyrics are bold. The production is ambitious. The song structures are challenging. The sequencing is impeccable. This record is everything. 

Highlights: The Louvre, Liability Perfect Places

2. Kelela - Take Me Apart

Considering that I can only fully enjoy this record at night time, I don't even know if I would love it as much if it came out in the summer. But it didn't - it came out in perfect time for me to stay in most nights and blast it from front to back with a cup of peppermint tea and a scented candle burning. Again, I've already discussed why I adore this ad nauseam in my review for my student newspaper, so read that instead.

Highlights: LMK, Truth Or Dare, Blue Light

1. St. Vincent - Masseduction

No surprises, I can comfortably call Annie my favourite artist at this point and so 40 minutes of her breathing into a mic would've still placed on this list. It helps that Masseduction is a genuine artistic achievement and marks her most polished body of work today. Rather sound like a broken record (much like my vinyl copy of this because the packaging is fucking garbage, cheers Annie), just listen to the album for yourself. 

Highlights: Los Ageless, New York, Young Lover

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Best of October


Apologies for the lateness, I currently have deadlines coming out of my ears (is that even a phrase? hmm) but I've found some time to do a quick update.

Q4 has continued to deliver top-notch releases, with Kelela and St. Vincent releasing two of the best albums of the year so far. On that note, I recently wrote a (gleaming) review of Take Me Apart for my university's newspaper, which you should absolutely check out.

St. Vincent - Pills
Kelela - Blue Light
Fever Ray - To The Moon And Back
Loreen - '71 Charger
BANKS - Underdog
MUNA - Relief Next To Me
Tei Shi - Say You Do

St. Vincent - Masseduction
Kelela - Take Me Apart
Fever Ray - Plunge
George Maple - Lover
Tegan and Sara - The Con X Covers
King Krule - The Ooz
Julien Baker Turn Out The Lights
Alex Lahey - I Love You Like A Brother
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid
Lawrence Rothman - The Book Of Law

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Best of September


First of all, I have absolutely ZERO qualms about hailing this the best month of 2017 so far in terms of the sheer quantity and quality of fantastic releases. The potential issue with a high volume of excellent music coming at you all within 30~ days is that it becomes rather easy to let some of it pass you by...but not on my watch!

Make no mistake, people, you WILL be in love with Susanne Sundfør's depressing brand of Scandi -Folk by the time October comes. You WILL be enamoured by the Russian techno-pop stylings of Kedr Livanskiy as the first leaves of Autumn begin to fall. Alvvays WILL soundtrack your next Autumnal road trip. Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe WILL be soundtracking your ooky-spooky Halloween festivities. Anna of the North WILL tie you over until Shura releases her next album. Carmen Villain WILL be your new favourite Norwegian-Mexican singer-songwriter. Hundred Waters’ ‘Blanket Me’ WILL move you to tears, even if you aren’t a cryer. MYRKUR WILL be your stepping stone into the world of Nordic alt-metal. Ibeyi WILL blow you away with their impressive vocalisation. 

Trust me.

Songs of the month:
St Vincent - Los Ageless
Kelly Clarkson - Love So Soft
Kelela - Frontline
Hundred Waters - Wave to Anchor
Margot Price - A Little Pain
Tove Lo - Disco Tits
George Maple - Hero
French Montana - Unforgettable (Mariah Carey Remix)
Ibeyi - Me Voy (feat. Mala Rodriguez)
Alice Boman - Dreams
MUNA - In My Way
Bjork - The Gate
SKT - No Life
NAO - Nostalgia

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Deadly Valentine

Albums of the month
- Alvvays - Antisocialites
- Anna of the North - Lovers
- Carmen Villain - Infinite Avenue
- Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
- Pierre Kwenders – Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
- Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble
- The National - Sleep Well Beast
- Zola Jesus - Okovi
- Ariel Pink - Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
- Emily Haines - Choir Of The Mind
- Hundred Waters - Communicating
- MYRKUR - Maneblot
- Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
- Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger In The Alps
- Ibeyi - Ash
- The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Always Foreign
- Torres - Three

- Wolf Alice - Visions Of A Life 

(Spotify playlist coming soon, promise.)

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Best of August


I know I've been neglecting this blog a lot lately, but that's mostly since I've just started another blog called Room2Think earlier this month, which you should all totally check out *wink wink*. 

This is far from an exciting update because August has been rather barren release-wise and one of my most anticipated releases (Susanne Sundfør's latest opus) got delayed by 3 weeks, which was kinda shitty. However, September looks set to be jam-packed with great stuff (musically, at least) so that's something. 

I feel it's worth noting that we saw Dua Lipa, in a shocking turn of events, snatch the number one spot despite a terrible release roll-out from her label. This is not only significant because the number one singles we've had lately have been mostly awful, but I'm also pretty sure that this is the first solo female number one single we've had in the UK since Adele's Hello back in 2015 (!!) so good for her. New Rules is also fantastic so it's triumph all around, really. Oh and here's a link to the excellent music video, just cuz.

The big standout for me was Kelela's triumphant return with LMK, possibly my song of the year so far. Oh, and the Kesha album is really solid too (trust me).

Kelela - LMK
Lizzo - Water Me
EMA - Blood and Chalk
Carmen Villain - Borders (feat. Jenny Hval)
Zola Jesus - Soak
Jessie Ware - Midnight
Lindstrøm - Shinin feat. Grace Hall
BOSCO - Cruel
Charli XCX - Boys

Briana Marela - Call It Love
EMA - Exile In The Outer Ring
Frankie Rose - Cage Tropical
Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination 
Kesha - Rainbow
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Soccer Mommy - Collection
Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruin
BOSCO - b.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Best of July


Another quick update! After a short bout of post-Eurovision depression, I am happy to say that I am fully caught-up with all the releases that I have been meaning to listen to over the past few months. As such, I am continuing to add to my ever-expanding bank of records and songs released this year...and how knows? I might even post another full album review at some point...

Pretty much every update to the songs playlist is a year-end-list contender, seriously, every song on the list below has stopped my in my tracks this month. June has really spoiled me; between finishing my first year of university, turning 19, starting a new job and catching up with old friends, I can say that June was a pretty good month. 

Haim - Something To Tell You 
Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds From Another Planet 
Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life 
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm 
Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy 
Dua Lipa - Dua Lipa 
Katie Von Schleicher - Shitty Hits <=early contender for album title of the year?

Empress Of - Go To Hell
Hundred Waters - Blanket Me
The Weather Station - Thirty 
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Fatal Gift
Phoebe Bridgers - Motion Sickness 
Dua Lipa - New Rules 
Lana Del Rey - Cherry 
Alvvays - Dreams Tonite
Susanne Sundfør - Mountaineers 
Loreen - Body 
Briana Marela - Feel What I Feel
Zola Jesus - Soak 
St. Vincent - New York 
Jessie Ware - Midnight

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Best of 2017 so far (mid-year recap)

Hey! It's June and you know what that means - it's time for my mid-year round-up! Despite our political system suffering a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty, at least there has been a constant stream of excellent music to get us through the mess...

As always, there have been far too many excellent albums released in the past 6 months for me to possibly name them all, so here is my top 10 (in no particular order) + plus a few special mentions:

1. Lorde - Melodrama
2. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
3. Valerie June - The Order Of Time
5. Sampha - Process
6. London Grammar - Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
7. MUNA - About U
8. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
9. Lydia Ainsworth - Darling of the Afterglow
10. The xx - I See You

Honorable mentions

Austra - Future Politics
Perfume Genis - No Shape
The Big Moon - Love In The 4th Dimension 
Paramore - After Laughter
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness

Added to my ongoing songs playlist:

Susanne Sundfør - Undercover
Torres - Skim
Alvvays - In Undertow
Kali Uchis ft. Jorja Smith - Tyrant
Grizzly Bear - Three Rings
Lorde - Supercut
Waxahatchee - Never Been Wrong
Pixx - Waterslides
Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
TOKiMONSTA - Don't Call Me (feat. Luna)