Monday, November 30, 2009

I did it for love

I wasn't sure there was much point to going over the recently announced artists for half of 2010's Melodifestival songs considering there were few surprises in terms of known names--in fact, I'm still not sure there is--but hey, it's tradition, right? The songs for the first two semifinals, complete with artists, the songwriters' descriptions of the songs, and a few of my thoughts (see also my earlier post for more complete thoughts about the songwriters themselves and notes on some of the artists; also, beyond being grouped by semifinal, the songs aren't in running order) are below, along with notes from other websites. As always, I have absolutely no inside connections, so any comments about actual quality--not just regurgitated press release stuff--is from other sites, which I try to always cite. See my sources before, SVT's official site (source of most of these photos), QX, Aftonbladet, Gylleneskor, and Expressen (1, 2). For general Melodifestival coverage, I also highly recommend Schlagerprofilerna, Gylleneskor, and Scandipop; hopefully Tobbe will be back in time for the contest.

Semifinal 1 (February 6, 2010):

A Place To Stay
Artist: Jenny Silver
Composers: Torben Hedlund

A singer in '90s group Candela who Anders Nundstedt of Expressen describes as the "dansband chick gone punkrocker," Jenny Silver (née Ohlund) is performing a song described by its creator as dark, minimalistic, melancholy and hopeful pop song suitable for clubs which makes people feel beautiful and sexy. That's not at all the style of music I would have expected her to be singing, but I guess that peak makes me slightly more interested in a song I might otherwise have had no real thoughts about. It's still not high on my excitement list, though.

I Did It For Love
Artist: Jessica Andersson
Composers: Kristian Wejshag (text), Lars "Dille" Diedricson (musik)
Jessica, a former member of the previously Melodifestival-winning duo Fame, appears in the contest as a solo singer for the third time, but I can't get nearly as excited about this new entry, despite some positive buzz around it. The songwriters say "I Did It For Love" is an emotionally-charged beautiful ballad about the pain and dejectedness of a love story. In a QX interview, Jessica says "I Did It For Love" is a big, beautiful ballad in all its simplicity.

Keep On Walking
Artist: Salem Al Fakir
Composers: Salem Al Fakir
This semifinal's joker, piano man Salem Al Fakir is, for lack of a better phrase, a credible singer-songwriter, but don't let that scare you off entirely; he's also the author and singer of the transporting song "It's Only You (Part II)," which I listed as one of my favorite singles of 2008 and still thrill to whenever I hear on television via a car ad. Granted, that song was a reworking of an original version which I didn't love quite as much, but I'm still thrilled for Laura of EuropeCrazy that the artist she loves so much will be in the contest (plus I dare you to find another critically praised album from this year that contains a joyful '70s-styled song warning about the dangers of picking up an STD if you engage in free love--Salem may make serious ballads, but he's definitely got a sense of humor, too). Salem says "Keep On Walking" is in his usual style and is a peppy song about picking oneself up and still going on even after one has fallen.

Road Salt
Artist: Pain Of Salvation
Composers: Daniel Gildenlöw
Rock band Pain of Salvation will be performing this self-written song, which they call a delicate track, a rock ballad which isn't hard rock but rather more on the quiet side, that refuses to give up about a trip to person's dark corner where we don't want to be seen but are (yeah, the little Swedish I had while abroad is fading fast, so I'd welcome help on clarifying that). As you'd expect, my default reaction to this entry is skepticism--rock that relishes in the darker, creepier corners of the music scene (which is how I'd characterize the bits I've heard of this group's music) isn't really where I spend my personal time (when it comes to rock, I tend to like it big, full of hooks, mainstream-friendly, and decidedly un-creepy), so I can't say this is an entry that my personal taste is making me look forward to.

Artist: Frispråkarn
Composers: Håkan Bäckström (text), Hamed K-One Pirouzpanah (musik)
Rapper Frispråkarn will be performing a song which he and his cowriter (who also worked on Ola's "Sky's The Limit" amidst a host of more R&B tracks) say is a mix of hip-hop and R&B that has a crazy dancey beat with vivid lyrics.

The Saviour
Artist: Anders Ekborg
Composers: Henrik Janson, Tony Nilsson
"The Saviour" replaces disqualified song "Åt helvete för sent." Theater star Anders Ekborg (who is releasing an album this spring) is one of many Melodifestival debutants this year, and he's performing a song by by the team who wrote Ola's 2008 entry "Love In Stereo." Anders' song, though, is described by its writers as a cross between Freddie Mercury and Pavarotti which is about saving the world with music, and Anders says it's grand and difficult to sing. Usually I'm kind of skeptical about opera in pop songs ("La Voix" was an exception), but this sounds interesting, if nothing else, and it has songwriters I like attached to it.

Artist: Ola
Composers: Alexander Kronlund, Hanif Sabzevari, Dimitri Stassos, Ola Svensson
All these Ola connections...and now we've finally got the real thing! I can't overstate how excited I am about Alexander Kronlund writing a song for Ola--he knows his way around pop, as I went over in my earlier MF post. The official Melodifestival site isn't listing any of the usual details about this entry, so I'll just restate what I said before: a modern uptempo pop song which has a positive buzz around it suggesting it's of the class of "Natalie," Ola's breakout hit...a real radio hit. Ola told QX that "Unstoppable" shows off his new harder sound and is in a different style from what he's done previously. One of my most anticipated songs of the contest, for sure.

You're Making Me Hot-Hot-Hot
Artist: Linda Pritchard
Composers: Johan Fransson, Tim Larsson, Tobias Lundgren
I LOVE this team of songwriters. Not 100% quality, but darn close, and when they do get it right, they get it right BIG TIME (Linda Bengzting's "Alla flickor" and "Hur svårt kan det va?", Jessica Andersson's "Kalla nätter," Alcazar's "Alcastar," Jessica Folcker's "Om natten," etc.). Linda, who competed in the early stages of Idol, has only given us one taste of her solo work so far, a cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," but I doubt it's worth more than a mention since it's not by these writers, who say their song is uptempo pop with a Latin style. I wish they'd left off the "Latin style" part--just a fantastic pop or schlager-pop or disco-pop song is what I'd like from them--but this is still one of the entries I'm excited to hear. Linda adds in an interview with QX that "You're Making Me Hot-Hot-Hot" is a swinging party song which you can't sit still for

Semifinal 2 (February 13, 2010):

Come And Get Me Now
Artist: not yet clear
Composers: Mia Terngård (text & musik), Stefan Lebert (musik)
The webjoker winner, so we've already heard it, at least in an early form. Suffice to say it would not have been my choice.

Hippare Hoppare
Artist: Andra generationen & Dogge
Composers: Vlatko Ancevski, Vlatko Gicarevski, Douglas Leon, Mats Nilsson, Teddy Paunkoski, Otis Sandsjö, Stevan Tomulevski
Balkan style mixed with hip hop--yup, that's what you'd expect from Balkan-flavored band Andra generationen and rapper Dogge. They also refer to the song as being Balkan reggaeton. Oh joy, oh rapture.

Innan alla ljusen brunnit ut
Artist: Anna-Maria Espinosa
Composers: Danne Attlerud (text), Stefan Woody (musik)
Anna-Maria's own sound is a sort of indie-pop-rock. Credible. Her entry--with music composed by someone whose name I only know from MissMatch's "Drop Dead"--is said to convey a frank feeling of loss.

Artist: Eric Saade
Composers: Peter Boström (musik), Fredrik Kempe (text & musik)
Eric, formerly a member of boy band What's Up who has done Disney work and is dating Molly Sandén, will be singing this uptempo song which its writers--of Charlotte Perrelli's "Hero" amongst many others--say has an exciting dynamic. In an interview with QX, Eric says "Manboy" has some mysterious, slightly dangerous-feeling elements--hard or strong, not wimpy. Rumor has it this could be a "Cara Mia"-level song. No surprise--it's one I'm looking forward to (and the idea of Fredrik/Peter pop but with a slightly harder sound is just what I wanted).

Incidentally, in that same interview with QX, Eric says he's releasing a single called "Sleepless" which is also by Fredrik and Peter, which is thrilling to me--I didn't think we'd get a taste of his music until February or March, but we must be hearing "Sleepless" before that. Unsurprisingly, Eric's official site says he's planning to release an album in 2010.

Artist: Hanna Lindblad
Composers: Sarah Lundbäck, Hayden Bell, Erik Lewander, Iggy Strange-Dahl
Hannah, who's done theater work and backing vocals, will be singing a song its writers describe as a sexy dance/club song with a lot of R&B influence, while Hanna tells QX it's a cool suggestive club song. I might not otherwise be excited, but that description is enough for me.

Artist: Kalle Moraeus & Orsa spelmän
Composers: Lina Eriksson (text), Johan Moraeus (musik)
They (Kalle and his string group) have apparently played as part of the Benny Andersson Orchestra. No description of the song on SVT yet.

We Can Work It Out
Artist: Andreas Johnsson
Composers: Andreas Johnson (text), Bobby Ljunggren (musik), Marcos Ubeda (musik)
Andreas Johnson, known internationally for "Glorious," makes yet another return to Melodifestivalen (his fourth time in five years, I think). Once again, no description of the song on SVT yet, but Andreas told QX that it's a piano ballad, which is a change from his earlier entries, a big beautiful epic song closer to "Glorious" than his other Melodifestival entries.

In other Melodifestival news, Expressen gossips that, in regards to the songs not officially linked to singers yet, folk act Timotej (not Erika Selin) will sing "Run," Linda Bengtzing was offered Tony Nilsson song "Headlines" but it's not clear if she's accepted yet, and guesses at/reports some other matches.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Need a second to breathe

If I'm remembering what I read correctly and if what I read was correct in the first place, "Whataya Want From Me," a song on Adam Lambert's upcoming album For Your Entertainment that was written by Max Martin, Shellback, and Pink, was originally scheduled to appear on Pink's Funhouse album--well, that much we know for sure. The rumor I read, though, was that the song was written about a relationship Pink had when she and her husband Carey Hart were separated and headed for a divorce. When she began to reconcile with Carey, Pink removed the song, then called "What Do You Want From Me," from the album at the last minute.

I'm not sure that the timeline for this story quite works out--Funhouse came out in October 2008 and I don't know of any Pink-Carey reunion stories that broke before January 2009 (though if you were trying to fix a rocky relationship, you certainly wouldn't be publicizing it early on in the process)--but I could imagine it being the case given the narrative of "Whataya Want From Me." As emotional context, that story works, but whether the song was written about another man, Carey, or from a theoretical perspective based on what Max thought would make for a good song doesn't matter in the end. Whatever the inspiration, "Whataya Want From Me" succeeds in being one of the most heart-tugging radio-ready pop songs I've heard this year, better than all the Max collaborations that did make it onto Funhouse besides "It's All Your Fault" (which "Whataya Want From Me" bears a bit of a resemblance to).

Is it wrong to call the sound of someone going through emotional turmoil musically delicious? That's what this song is for me, both lyrically and instrumentally a mix of hope and sadness that makes for emotional complication I can't get enough of. The sparse verses, with their crestfallen guitar riff (yes, a guitar riff can be crestfallen), set the mood, but it's in the gorgeous gently pop-rock chorus that the song really shines, with a melody that shows Max at his songwriting best. The subject matter--essentially "I'm really messed up right now, but please don't let that scare you off because I'm trying and I think we can make this work if you're willing to take it slow"--isn't incredibly uncommon, but thanks to some strong songwriting from all parties involved, "Whataya Want From Me" ends up being compelling, making "what do you want from me?" both a nervous query as to whether the narrator is setting him/herself up to get hurt again and a plea to understand what it will take to get his/her partner to stay. It's all the messed-up emotions of trying to form a relationship after a tough breakup balled into one beautiful little midtempo package.

Since "Don't Let Me Get Me" and "Just Like A Pill" (both co-written and produced by Dallas Austin), Pink has shown herself to perhaps be the American singer best capable of portraying the darker, complicated side of the emotional spectrum in perfect for radio but also emotionally affecting midtempo songs. That's in large part due to that just-raspy-enough voice of hers, but time has shown her to either be a great songwriter in her own right or a seriously fantastic muse for great songwriters. "Whataya Want From Me" would have been an excellent addition to the Pink canon, but Adam does it justice, might even make it better with a voice that tends to pierce through the musical background instead of get fuzzy around the edges to meld in with it. Maybe it's just the novelty of hearing his voice on one of these songs, but for me it feels as if he manages to get away with the repetitive nature of the second half of the chorus a little better than Pink might have. Pure speculation, though.

Anyway, the point: "Whataya Want From Me" is one of those songs that had me singing along at first listen and also never fails to make me feel something, even if what I'm feeling isn't perfectly clear cut. There's a certain kind of glory that can come from a pop song with a bit of pace to it and this pop-friendly a chorus forcing you to muck about in those kind of emotions, even if it is a simple kind of complexity, that comes when a song resonates musically and emotionally and those resonances enhance each other...and "Whataya Want From Me" has it.

Preorder Adam Lambert's debut album, For Your Entertainment, here (physical).

I couldn't properly work it into the post, but I needed to mention that the first verse can seem a little weak lyrically but the second verse makes up for it. "It's me...I'm a freak" may not translate to amazing on the screen, but sung, it never fails to get me.

I just can't kick the habit

I can't believe we're going to have to wait until January 11 until we can all officially and legally get our hands on the proper quality version of British rapper Example's next single, "Won't Go Quietly." After reinventing himself with "Watch The Sun Come Up," a both joyful and sad beautiful poppy ode to a summer fling which Example finds himself wanting to turn into something more but is unable to do so (and which was accompanied by a dreamy Fred Falke remix), Example continues in that style with "Won't Go Quietly," which features some guest vocals from Rogues' Sam James. Admittedly, Example has picked up the pace and swapped out some of the piano elements for a more rave-influenced sound, but that same magical quality still surrounds the song.

This may be overstating things, but these past two singles have been the sound of someone deciding they want to destroy all previous expectations about what he'd achieve, going for broke on the "I want to make popstar music" front, and finding success--at least in terms of quality--in spades. It will be tough for anything on Example's forthcoming album, also titled Won't Go Quietly, to rival "Won't Go Quietly" and "Watch The Sun Come Up," but who would have guessed a dark house like him would come from behind to be a real contender in the (recently fashionable) electronic pop race?

(Producers the Fearless, responsible for both these songs, are also looking like people to watch out for in the coming year.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Maybe I just don't know how to love you

My Erasure knowledge is, as Paul and I have discussed a bit, not what it should be. It includes a LOT of love for one song ("A Little Respect") and a lot of enjoyment of the two albums I own, I Say I Say I Say and Light At The End Of The World. I know I'd enjoy more if I bought it, but somehow, it just hasn't happened yet.

Somehow, though, in the midst of these giant gaps of Erasure knowledge, I found room to love "Crazy," the lead single from Andy Bell's 2005 solo album--love it enough that I can't help feeling I should have found out long before now that Andy is working on a new solo album, produced by none other than Pascal Gabriel.

Let me just repeat that: Andy Bell and Pascal Gabriel. If Andy isn't going to work with Vince Clarke, I can't imagine a better combination.

The first available result from that collaboration is the album's lead single, "Running Out," co-written by Andy and Pascal. It's released under the name MiMó, as the album, due out in 2010, will be, and apparently a second single, "Will You Be There?", has just recently gone out to radios.

If "Running Out" is any indication, we're in for pretty much what I'd hope an Andy Bell album in 2010 would sound like: electronic pop that's got a hint of Sam Sparro (well, the best of Sam Sparro, so basically "Black & Gold") about it but still has time for some big swoony Andy vocals (the "and I think that I'm running out" is instantly recognizable as him, enough so that I at first thought the song just sampled Erasure when I didn't know who MiMó was).

The "Running Out" single package also comes complete with remixes from Fenech-Soler and VEGA that you electronic music fans may love, but I think I'll be sticking with the original version. I'm not sure if I love it quite as much as "Crazy," but I have high hopes for "Will You Be There?".

You can buy MiMó's single "Running Out" from iTunes if you live outside the U.S., but you can buy it from here (digital) regardless of where you live.

(I am admittedly very far out of the Erasure/Andy Bell loop, so if any of this is wrong, please correct me!)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jag sov med hjärtat i bandage och du sov någon annanstans

I heard my first Christmas song of the season on the radio last Saturday. It must officially be that time of year again...which means a new set of popstar Christmas songs. That's good news for Paul of Fizzy Pop and just maybe good news for the rest of us, too, at least when they're as enjoyable as "I Don't Believe In Angels," the new single from Melody Club.

A duet featuring guest vocals from Anna Järvinen, "I Don't Believe In" has an organic band sound to it, but a gentle, strummy one. It's also, surprisingly, sweetly uplifting. I love the combination of Kristofer and Anna's voices together; I hadn't heard Anna's work before, but apparently she was part of the group Granada and has had a solo career for the past few years.

In a similar vein of grown-up Swedish pop is Mathias Holmgren's latest single, "Tänk om jag dör nu inatt," though it's not technically Christmas-themed.

My usual attitude is wishing Mathias, a Fame Factory contestant who spent some time as the lead singer of Barbaods after Magnus Carlsson's departure before also going solo himself, would return to schlager. He began his solo career with Melodifestival entry "Långt bortom tid och rum," pure schlager, and his first solo album, Vägen hem, was very much in that style. After that, though, he moved to a more singer-songwriter sound. "Tänk om jag dör nu inatt" isn't actually too far removed from that style, but it's done really, really well, the sort of song that sweeps you along for its rises and falls. From what I understand of the lyrics, they only further my belief that the right word for "Tänk om jag dör nu inatt" is "lovely," albeit sadly lovely. The title means "What If I Die Tonight," and the song stands as an attempt to apologize and win back a lover after a fight. What makes it even better is that the song is written by Johan Thorsell, Mathias's husband; the song stands on its own, but that extra bit of emotional context makes it even more powerful and poignant.

You can buy Melody Club and Anna Järvinen's single "I Don't Believe In Angels" here (digital) and Mathias Holmgren's single "Tänk om jag dör nu inatt" here (digital). Mathias releases an album of the same title November 18.

Let you play with my emotions

"Beautiful Lie," taken from an upcoming rerelease of Jennifer Paige's latest album, may just be my favorite duet in several years, and that's considering how much I loved James Morrison and Nelly Furtado's "Broken Strings."

Jennifer and her duet partner, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys, have some of the voices that most instantly take me back to my formative music years in the midst of the late '90s teen pop boom. Jennifer's "Crush" slotted in right along the other radio hits from the early part of that period, but there was always something just a little more grown-up about it than the (equally great) "...Baby One More Time"s and "Candy"s that followed it; the hint of exotic seductiveness to "Crush" was like a peek into an underground world I was only barely aware of, and even then only in the most chaste way possible.

Backstreet's debut American album, Backstreet Boys, meanwhile, was the first album I can remember experiencing communally with a group of peers. To this day, if I close my eyes, the opening notes of "As Long As You Love Me" and "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" instantly take me back to a barely-in-the-wilderness cabin, where my Girl Scout troop, temporarily without a chaperon, sits in a circle, one of us holding a boombox. It's maybe a few weeks before school will start up again and I am, typically for the time, clueless about any and all recent developments in the musical world. Admittedly, the audience couldn't have been much more stacked in favor of the Backstreet Boys--a bunch of late elementary school-age girls at what essentially amounted a sleepover? As if we stood a chance.

Still, this was still several years before I'd admit to myself that I had a celebrity crush (Mark Wahlberg in the remake of Planet of the Apes--book addict that I was, my parents didn't blink an eye when I ran out after the movie to buy the novelization, little expecting that for the first time ever I had more interest in those glossy photos in the middle of the book than the words that surrounded them), but even if puppy love had been on the table as an option, the CD case was too busy being held by too many other girls to make its way to my hands. I had no visual image to go with the music I was hearing. All I could think was, "wow, you can love music like this? You can love it this much, in this way? It can matter this much to you?"

I guess what I'm getting at is that, for me, "Beautiful Lie," brand new as it may be, is one of those instant nostalgia songs. It's a simple little heart-tugging mid-tempo pop song, but it's sung beautifully (those harmonies!), composed beautifully (the lyrically quick, string-featuring section right after the middle eight!), and takes me right back to the late '90s partially by virtue of who its singers are and partially because, despite heavier synths than you'd hear back then, there's something about its style and structure that seems like it would fit right in with that era of pop. Nowadays, I can't really see a song like this getting played on American radio, but I hope, really hope, that it can find some success in continental Europe.

Whether or not it does, though, I can promise you this: that girl sitting on that dirty cabin floor would love it. Who am I to begrudge her the enjoyment of it now?

"Beautiful Lie" by Jennifer Paige and Nick Carter will be released as a single November 20, probably in countries like France and Germany, in which case you should be able to buy it from digital music stores like this one and this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'll promise my heart but there's one dark aside

I've got this ongoing list of albums coming in 2010 that I'm eagerly anticipating. Mixed in with the new entries from acts who've already released something are artists and groups who have yet to really try to establish themselves (for the purposes of this post, that excludes anyone who by the end of 2009 will have commercially released an actual intended-to-be-played-by-the-radio single, including as a famous part of an earlier group) but have already given me reason to hope for what they'll do. The bad news is that in many cases my excitement is based on only a couple of songs, making any statements about their potential precarious...but the glimmers of promise are too much fun to ignore.

Coming out of TEN, the people who brought you Erik Hassle, is this Swedish electronic pop-rock group. It remains to be seen whether other TEN members will get involved or whether DYNO will get the sort of international deal Erik ended up with, but the group's day in the sun has been long coming; like Erik's "Hurtful" before it finally took off, their song "Deliverance" has been around for ages, albeit in different forms and under different titles. It's the strongest of the songs on the group's EP from last year, Dig The DYNO!; it may not be full of guitars, but it sports a stadium-ready chorus, complete with chanty "yeah yeah yeah"s, to go along with its percussion base and synthetic blips. Elsewhere the group goes much more '80s electro, to good results on the nearly mushy "Emotional," but they never fully surrender themselves to a pure '80s synth sound; there's always a band element to their music, just with some '80s sparkle heavily mixed in. They've got more to offer than this EP, though, if material like "Destroy! Destroy!" is any indication.

Listen: "Deliverance"

Find them on: MySpace
Buy: the group has yet to specify when their first big release will come out, but you can buy their Dig The DYNO! EP on iTunes internationally in the meantime.
Other people writing about them: #1 Hits From Another Planet, Don't Stop The Pop

Fabio Lendrum
Calvin Harris's '90s rave and Hadouken and Frankmusik's spastic electronic styles meet much more pop vocal lines in the best songs of this major label-signed British singer; it all adds up to a chart-friendly dance-pop style which isn't actually that much like the aforementioned artists, but male electronic pop acts are few and far between enough that that's the best I've got. His ballads so far don't have anything on "Vacant Heart" or "Your Boy," but "What She's Got" is appealing barely-intelligible clashy electro-pop, "Don't Wait For Me" and "Everybody Glows" work that pop-meets-rave angle to great results (the same could be said for "Can't Help Myself," though it tones itself down into a more pleading tone), and "Trouble" is bouncy electro-pop. As pop as Fabio's work is, music like this always benefits from quality better than the 64kbps you'll hear on MySpace, so it might be a bit too early to jump to conclusions about much other than available-in-proper-quality "Wait For Me." His songs sometimes don't quite finish off their melodic thoughts quite like I want them to, but they tend to make up for it with neat little production tricks.

Also: best popstar hair in AGES, which cannot be overstated as a matter of importance.

Listen: "Don't Wait For Me"

Find him on: MySpace
Buy: I'm not certain, but given remixes are being made, his first single might be "Don't Wait For Me. Whatever it is, it should be out via Warners--maybe via imprint Eternal Records--in 2010.
Other people writing about him: Popjustice, This Must Be...Pop!

A former member of never-quite-off-the-ground retro girl group the Silhouettes, British singer DollFace has gone electro for her solo career. The clear standout of the material on her MySpace is "Ms. Jamaica," which fits into the post-RedOne world; while the other songs aren't without appeal ("Boomerang" has a feisty '90s sound to it, and I still swear I've heard it somewhere before), "Ms. Jamaica" is the moment that makes you think DollFace could both fit in and bring something welcomingly new to Britain's modern charts.

Listen: "Ms. Jamaica"

Find her on MySpace
Buy: I'm not sure if she's signed yet.
Other people writing about her: Karinski, Popjustice

A new incarnation of the group formerly known as the Electric City, NiteVisions' publicity so far is mainly based on the fact that it's made up of two boys who are the children of two members of Duran Duran and that they're a Xenomania project. Very little has been heard from the group under this name, only a clip of "Fire," but it seems safe to say they're influenced by the era their parents began making music. Mainly all we've got to go on so far is potential, but come on, doesn't the prospect of Xenomania + boy duo + a sound influenced by Duran Duran, Gary Numan, and the Cars pique your interest at least a little bit?

Listen: a clip of "Fire"

Find them on MySpace (no music there yet)
Buy: nothing yet--I'm not sure they've signed to a label, but they're being shopped around
People also writing about them: Popjustice, BBC

If Hurts were still Daggers, I'd be immensely excited about the fact that they finally had some sort of outside-of-Popjustice buzz around them in the music industry--in fact, their album would be my most anticipated release of 2010. As that group, they fulfilled my desperate need for '80s pop-rock-dance full of energy and with soaring, perfect choruses and performed by possibly my new favorite band frontman; songs like "Lost In The Distance" and "Death It Feels" are some of my favorite MySpace-only songs ever.

Unfortunately, Daggers is no more, replaced by the seemingly two-person formation which still includes singer Theo. It's not the first time the group has changed, but this time it seems they've gone much darker, more melancholy, qualities which Daggers certainly had but were balanced by songs that were, well, just plain more fun; the fact that not every song was a stylish brooding slow-paced meditation about loss helped me appreciate the songs that did meet that description more.

The three songs we've heard from Hurts so far seem to show that the quality of material is still there. "Illuminated" is beautiful, "Wonderful Life" deserves crossover success, and "Unspoken" (which comes complete with a Fred Falke remix) has wiffs of a demo about it but still has some truly lovely melodic elements; in short, I love them all. It's just that all indications so far are that we've lost the group that was equally capable of inspiring hands-over-head, standing-in-place jumping up and down and requiring a strut-filled command of the stage from Theo. I hope I'm wrong and, even if I'm not, I'd wish them luck based on these new songs alone; I could just be a bit more enthusiastic if I had some indication that, somewhere along the line, the fun was still waiting for us.

And, hey, if nothing else, they're working on their debut album in Sweden, so that's got to count for something, right?

Listen: "Wonderful Life"

Find them on MySpace
Buy: they're signed to Major Label, the Richard Stannard-backed subsidiary of Sony. "Wonderful Life" is receiving radio play and is, I think, set to be a single, but as to whether it's a "buzz single" or "actually meant to conquer the UK single," I'm not sure. In the meantime, a double-sided Daggers single, "Money"/"Magazine," is available on iTunes internationally; it's worth it for the excellent "Money" alone.
Other people writing about them: Worrapolava, #1 Hits From Another Planet, Popjustice, Karinski, NME

Jessie Malakouti
Will Jessie's "Standing Up For The Lonely," ever get a proper release? Now backed by Xenomania, the positioned-as-attitude-filled American singer's proper debut single was first played on the radio midway through 2009 but has yet to take off or receive much publicity outside of Jessie's opening for the Saturdays. The former member of Shut Up Stella put out some songs before working with Xenomania (including "Trash Me," which "If U Seek Amy" instantly made me think of when I heard it and which Jessie claims was ripped off by said song), but it's her work with the British songwriting group that has me most excited. Besides "Standing Up For The Lonely," a dance-poppy brush-off to boyfriend, the highlight of her material seems to be "Who's That Man," a throwback to '80s pure pop musical breeziness wrapped around heartbreak. Her live styling may sometimes be...ill-advised, but I'll be willing to forgive and forget if she keeps putting her slightly Gwen Stefani-ish voice to songs like this one.

Listen: "Standing Up For The Lonely"

Find her on MySpace
Buy: supposedly, "Standing Up For The Lonely" is now set for a January release by Hard2Beat. In the meantime, you can download a free megamix of a few songs with a mailing list signup here
Other people writing about her: Popjustice

Daisy Dares You
Singing catchy small-band-gussied-up-with-electronic-production pop songs, young British singer Daisy is going to have trouble beating her key song, "Number One Enemy." Even as a demo, it captures a welcome youthfulness and freshness while also having just a bit--only a bit--of a cool indie-pop feel. Daisy can go more electronic (the results in "Next Few Minutes" are great) or add in some piano, but her voice tends to have a sweet, laid-back vibe (just a bit like the effect of Lily Allen's voice) even when she's giving attitude, which gives an innocent, easy-to-listen-to quality to her music. Some songs, whether they're musically or lyrically simple, give off a vibe of sweet simplicity; Daisy does those incredibly well (see "You'll Be Fine" for proof)...but we really can't let go of how much fun there is in "Number One Enemy."

Listen: "No. 1 Enemy"

Find her on MySpace
Buy: nothing yet, but she's signed to Jive and you can download "Daisy Dares You" for free with a mailing list signup here
Other people writing about her: The Guardian, Karinski, Into The Groove, Mumuuse

Much as I wish I had some official news on Rosanna, I don't, meaning putting her on this list is pure speculation; there's been no word I've seen about when an official release from this former member of Swedish girl band Play will be forthcoming (she's represented by UK-based Crown Music Management, but that's all I've got). That's a shame, since her pop songs need to be unleashed upon the world as soon as possible. From the cutesy bubbly electro-pop of "Gameboy" to the more expansive mid-tempo electro ballad "Waterfall," Rosanna has given us multiple reasons to get excited. Count on collaborations with Tortuga (who you may know from Isabel Guzman's music) and Jim Eliot of Kish Mauve (yes, he may have written Kylie's "2 Hearts," originally done by Kish Mauve, but he also co-wrote Ladyhawke's "Crazy World," "Love Don't Live Here," and "Better Than Sunday") to appear on her sure-to-be-great album whenever it does see the light of day.

Listen: "Gameboy"

Find her on MySpace
Buy: no solo releases from Rosanna yet, but besides her work with Play, you can hear her provide vocals on some great modern electronic pop songs, "Oh!" and "Fast Car," on Swedish electronic artist Kocky's second album, Stadium Status, available on iTunes internationally
Other people writing about her: Don't Stop The Pop, Popjustice

Originally going under the name Jessie J, British singer Jessica Cornish had her first taste of major chart success as the co-writer of Miley Cyrus's "Party In The U.S.A.," and, to be honest, none of her original, soulful solo material from years ago thrilled me, but with a voice as strong as hers and with the (American) label investment it seems is going on, she should end up with some material worthy of her. She's worked with Dr. Luke (though whether that material will be heard outside of the Miley song remains to be heard), Robert Allen (Rihanna's "Disturbia" and Chris Brown's "Forever"), Warren Felder (Jennifer Lopez's "Mile In These Shoes," Chris Brown's "Superhuman") and Toby Gad (a million things, from Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry"/Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" to the Veronicas' "Untouched" to Sita's "Happy"), and it seems likely little if any of her earlier material will appear on the album ("Sexy Silk" won't, at any rate). Said album was supposedly going to come out this year, but, with no real news on that front, it seems safe to assume it's pushed back to 2010.

Listen: "Rainbow," a song from the past few months which might or might not be on the album, sung live by Jessie over the actual song

Find her on MySpace
Buy: her debut album should be out next year on Universal, in the U.S. and on Island in the UK
Other people writing about her: Worrapolava, Popjustice

There are also many artists who I've got even less to base speculation on but am still interested in--many of the artists debuting in Melodifestival, for example, or maybe some of the other Xenomania acts. I thought about including young British singers Ellie Goulding (who mixes indie pop-friendly vocal stylings with electronic production on songs for a sort of twee pop-meets-gentle-electro-pop sound) and Marina + the Diamonds (quirky electronic pop not afraid of pianos) especially since I think their singles ("Under The Sheets" and "Mowgli's Road," respectively, though it was "The Shampain Sleeper" that first sold me on Marina) may be more on the buzz single side of things, but I wasn't quite sure; they'll appear on an upcoming list, if I can ever get everything together. The same probably holds true for Red Blooded Women, and in retrospect, I guess Simon Curtis could have qualified for this, couldn't he? Edit: oh, Sam Taylor should be in here too, shouldn't he...assuming an album is actually coming?

Who did I leave out?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Take you away from here

I've fallen into a bad habit recently of starting these long, involved posts and then never finishing them, leaving them lost in the cobweb filled word of "Drafts" for who knows how long, and then rushing out a quick one or two sentence description of each song I'm loving at the moment (though strangely my last rambly long post got finished in one sitting). It's certainly not for lack of good music to write about--it's more a matter of songs that I love so much that I really want to do them justice or multi-part issues or explorations of subjects that cry out for a little more effort and my seeming ADDish inability to finish them.

I'll try to hit that middle ground sweet spot more often, though, because I need an outlet to talk about how much I'm enjoying Martin Stenmarck's new album, how excited I am about the new Adam Lambert album (I have apparently listened to each of the 30 second clips--well, except "Time For Miracles"--fourteen times on my iPod alone), how lovely the Sugababes' "Wait For You" is, how much bounce Anna Abreu's "Music Everywhere" puts in my step, or how hard I fell for Blake Lewis's "Left My Baby For You" (I've said before how much I love "Heartbreak On Vinyl," and that still holds true as well).

In the meantime, there are a couple of projects based around the end of the decade that are worth your reading time: Chart Rigger's 40 best pop songs of the '00s and XO's year-by-year review of the '00s. It's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of now and songs that you instantly love are a hugely important part of pop; having spent all Friday a week ago with that adrenaline rush you get from loving, really loving a new song, I'm certainly not going to knock the appeal of the here-and-now. A bit of distance, though, can sometimes make for a better, more insightful read and can take you back to some pretty special songs (and memories, even if the songs no longer hold the power for you now that they did then).

My only desire

Some pop songs are just transcendent.

(Video/song match is not ideal, to say the least.)

It's probably an overused word, to be fair, and in and of itself it probably shouldn't be taken to mean anything other than a way to say "brilliant," maybe hinting at a touch of class and an ability to draw out a bit of emotion--I'd say make you feel above emotion, like you've shed emotion and are just sort of free-floating--but that's far too cold a description for songs like this.

Swedish duo the Attic, gone from the music scene for far too long without an indication of when they'll return, specialize in dance music with pop appeal. Over the course of one and a half albums, several unattached songs, and multiple remixes, they've helped create more than a few special moments, but "In Your Eyes," a single from 2005, still stands as the song that makes me want to throw around words like "transcendent" and "transporting" with no regard for technicalities, only for the feelings those words stir up.

A lot like the song, actually--on paper, the lyrics read as ridiculously clichéd, trite platitudes that must have been set to paper in the course of two to five minutes, depending on how quickly Michael Feiner and Eric Amarillo can write. Brought to musical life in "In Your Eyes," though, they manage to accomplish that sneaky pop trick of surpassing denotations and even connotations to become beautifully evocative. Evocative--another one of those wonderful flowery words we semi-lazy writers love to use to make our writing sound much deeper than it actually is; with a million possible shades and gradations of emotions to evoke, how is the unclarified word "evocative" supposed to mean anything?

Sometimes that lack of clarity is just what is called for as a descriptor, though. The Backstreet Boys' "I Want I That Way" is incredibly evocative, even though I've heard different people find different emotions and derive different storylines from its conflicting words. The songwriters even played with lyrics that give the song a much more logical throughline before eventually settling on the much less clear but much more evocative version we all know and love.

"In Your Eyes" is, in straightforward words, a synth-filled electronic song with an uptempo backing beat, midtempo topline, and second person lyrics about feeling at home and loved in "your" eyes. None of those words, though, captures the gentle reassurance and life- and love-affirming beauty of the song as well as so-called overused-to-the-point-of-meaningless words like "transcendent." At this point, it's practically a cliché to write about how clichés may be cliché but still have truth to them, but, like a series of ever-reflecting mirrors, I've got to say right back that redeeming the cliché may be cliché, but, every now and then, it's still needed. There's a reason we come back to certain words over and over again--they're the only real match for the beauty we find in some music.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be over here trying to figure out how to work "effervescent" into my next review...whether or not the song actually involves any emission of bubbles.

(This post is half-inspired by Chart Rigger's D'luv and Moogaboo reminding me how much I love All Saints' "Pure Shores." Talk about evocative--the word "dreampop" instantly captures the song better than a post of, oh, say, similar length to this one could.)

(Edit: see more about "Pure Shores" at J. Mensah's.)