Sunday, May 30, 2010

To make you smile

We interrupt this Swedish pop binge to bring you the following news: Tom Fletcher... looking mighty fine lately.

(On an unrelated note, Danny's voice is still, for lack of a better phrase, just what I want it to be.)

Please, pop gods and goddesses, let me love the next McFly album.

Anyway, further evidence for the prosecution:

To swerve back into music appreciation, the supposed raison d'etre for this blog, here they are performing one of my favorite, favorite songs by them, "Falling In Love."

The overlapping, in round part in the middle 8? In the studio version, one of the most swoon-worthy pop moments I know (here, they delegate some of the singing to the crowd, so the effect isn't quite the same).

Friday, May 28, 2010

This is the time you've been waiting for

Swedish group Da Buzz may fall into the category of "for those who love what you think of when you say 'Swedish pop' only"--that is, their work is seen as too cheesy and formulaic in some eyes--but for those of us who are in the former group, it's tough to find a more reliable act to turn to for good, usually dancey pop songs.

"Let Me Love You" from their first album is as good an indication as any of their sound. It's from 2000, and it sounds like it, a stylistic mix of Cheiron and dance pop with a sweet melody.

Their 2003 Melodifestival entry "Stop! Look! Listen!" does sound better in its studio version than live, but still included a good vocal performance from lead singer Annika and deserved far better than fifth in its semifinal. It's a little less dancey, a little more poppy, and one of my favorite things they've done.

On the other side of things is the purer dance sound of "Without Breaking," a single from their last studio album which is produced by the Jonas Von Der Burg of September fame. The harder electronic beats and little electronic squiggles make this track harder-hitting than many Da Buzz songs, but it's still in keeping with their aesthetic.

After a greatest hits album a few years ago, the three-person group has been on a break, with the members pursuing different projects, but this summer they've returned with a new single, "U Gotta Dance." I have a pretty bad track record of judging Da Buzz songs right off the bat, with a tendency to underrate them, but I feel pretty confident in saying that 1.) "U Gotta Dance" will win them no new converts, but 2.) fans will be happy. Da Buzz includes some pretty talented musicians, so really, we shouldn't be surprised, but still: thank goodness they're back.

I'm not sure when the single for "U Gotta Dance" is coming out, but the song is included on the compilation album Bodywork 11, which you can buy here (physical).

(This post was going to include something about the new Magnus Carlsson single--out, available on iTunes internationally, and sounding like Star Pilots meets Velvet--and the new Ola single--called "Overdrive," co-written by Sharon Vaughn, at radios, as yet unheard by me--but it's already a bit long and I still, as mentioned, haven't heard the latter yet.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Couldn't be more true

One of the songs I neglected to mention in either of the long lists below is Robyn's "Dancing On My Own," though that's not for lack of quality and more because it didn't fit neatly into either of the admittedly nebulous categories of those lists. The first proper lead single from this campaign (though supposed buzz single "Fembot" is much past that point in Sweden and Norway), "Dancing On My Own" takes a few cues from "With Every Heartbeat," but I may just love it more, even if it's less stop-you-in-your-tracks unexpected with its emotional punch than that earlier single was.

Though much of the credit for the song has to go to Robyn, unsurpassed in her ability to cut right to the emotional core of a song but capture a million little subtleties without losing a sense that it's all unstudied, genuine, narrated straight from the heart, and her own songwriting skills, at least some of the praise should go to co-writer Patrik Berger. Like most Swedish songwriters with some sort of publishing deal, his work has popped up in all sorts of random places over the years.

It's his work on last year's Erik Hassle album (yes, I realize I never got around to that long-promised review, but rest assured that my statement that no other album has ever taken over my life in quite the same way still stands) that I want to take a moment to highlight. On an album as strong as that one, it's tough to choose a favorite song with any sort of consistency, but the track that may have held that title a plurality of the time is a Berger composition. "Isn't It Obvious" would lose much of its magic sung by a different interpreter, but the lyrics, the melody (and the production)--rarely have I felt that swept up in a song, as if it has suddenly tapped into some previously unknown frequency inside me and just happens to resonate at the same rate.

That reads as total cheese, I know, but hey, snarkiness has never been one of the things I'm good at--earnest is more what I do, and maybe that's part of why I respond so strongly to songs like "Isn't It Obvious," and "Dancing On My Own" for that matter: commercial pop--not ballady, for that matter, a fact which usually helps--with an emotional sincerity that appeals straight to the barely-under-the-surface romantic in me, sung by what might just be two of the best musical interpreters we've got going.

(Patrik Berger is also responsible for "Back To Bed" on Erik's album.)

Americans can download Erik Hassle's song "Hurtful" for free from iTunes through the rest of the day. The parent album, which I still maintain is better than that single might lead you to expect, is very much worth a purchase and is available on iTunes internationally and on Amazon (in both locations for less than $7), though for my money you're better off with the original Swedish version given a tracklisting change.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

See, what you're bringing me, boy, is priceless

The inevitable counterpart to the post below? The songs that I've fallen for in the past few days. I'm still very behind--especially when it comes to (gasp!) Eurovision (which I get the impression isn't too impressive this year)--so all recommendations welcomed and appreciated.

Kylie Minogue, "All The Lovers"

I needed this song last week. Needed it. Still, it's not even June yet, right? Lots of time to enjoy Kylie's return.

Orup, "Tiden bara gick"

Artist and songwriter Orup has been a staple of the Swedish music scene since the '80s, though the overlapping area on the Venn diagram of his own output and the music I prefer is small enough that I can't say I'm a devotee of his, though Lena Philipsson's 2004 album Det gör ont en stund på natten men inget på dan, which he composed and which Anders Hansson produced, is one of the best albums to come out of Sweden in the '00s. He's more in the "respect and cherrypick" category. His new single, "Tiden bara gick," is very much worth picking: he's thankfully set aside the '60s sound he's been pursuing as part of a touring duo with Lena in favor of something that reminds me of the Killers' "Human" or the Bassflow remix of Martin Stenmarck's "Sjumilakliv." It's co-written with Johan Kinde, a member of '80s duo Lustans Lakejer, and like the aforementioned songs, it has that propulsive, vaguely '80s beat behind its grown-up melody. We're not talking campy Swedish disco-pop here, but "Tiden bara gick" is substantive radio pop that deserves crossover success.

Style, "Love Killer"

I'm operating on less than twenty-four hours of exposure to this new single from the Swedish dance-pop duo who mounted a comeback with "Vill ha dig igen" last year, so what I really think of it won't be apparent for a little while yet. Whether or not the opening of the chorus melody is strong enough remains to be seen, but how can you not want to listen to a song that sounds like old school Roxette with a debt to the '60s hit "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow"?

Alexis Jordan, "Happiness"

A Deadmau5-sampling song that in no way sounds like it's coming from an American act, let alone one from America's Got Talent, "Happiness" is one of those songs I listened to on YouTube once or twice in the past few months, brushed off, and then suddenly found myself having to own. Dance, pop, and R&B meshed into a gentle, luscious love song, with a sweet "mmm" hook that dives straight into your brain.

Example, "Kickstarts"

Could British rapper-turned-popstar Example's album just come out already? Third single and third top-quality, dreamy, summer-ready song.

Katharine McPhee feat. Zachary Levi, "Terrified"

(Yes, that Zachary Levi. Who knew?)

Technically pre-trip, this song is one that shouldn't be anywhere near this list. It's co-written by the man largely responsible for Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly," which I hate. It'd be one thing if this song was totally different, but nope, it's quite apparent on even a casual listen that it shares DNA with "Bubbly." Why, then, do I find "Terrified" so slowly, gently, creepingly endearing?

Also getting some play from me: Natasha Bedingfield's "Touch" (flawed but still drawing me back to it), Kids in Glass House's "Undercover Lover" (quiet but not slow pop-punk from the UK that could easily be from any number of random American groups but yet which I find catchy enough to win me over), Paolo Meneguzzi's "Imprevidibile" (also less than a day of exposure to this, but Paolo is a class act whose output is usually reliably of quality, and even with this somewhat more electro makeover, I have no reason to think this song with prove to be anything else), Alex Gardner's "Yesterday's News" (yes, I know, not new, but I only finally heard it), Sunday Girl's "Four Floors," that Bright Light Bright Light song, the Quentin Mosimann album (old news, but I've never written anything here since someone suggested it in the comments--I've forgotten who, but thank you!), a couple of Jenni Vartiainen songs (of which more will need to be written), maybe the new M.I.A. and Drake singles, Ola Joyce's "Beautiful Loser." Maybe a few Eric Saade songs, but though I know I should love him, I'm still not 100% sold on something about him yet--his voice, I think. He's got songwriters I love backing him, though.

Also, Janelle Monáe and Kelis albums: yay or nay? Worth buying?

Must be something in the water

I'm not much of a lying around the pool in the middle of summer kind of girl--give me a book and some shade, thank you very much--but a weeklong early summer vacation in a humid southern state kind of demands it. The songs that fell into frequent rotation for me this year during my "would have been more deserved any time from February to April but by this point was basically just a change in location, not leisure time" vacation (it's heavy on songs I added just before taking off and losing computer access):

Kelly Rowland, "Commander" (the song of summer, and don't pretend it's anything else)

3OH!3 feat. Kesha, "My First Kiss" (does this mean I'm giving in?)

Sean Kingston & Justin Bieber, "Eenie Meanie" (my "maybe the kids are all right" moment with today's teen pop, it's enough bubblegum fun to outweigh the awful "catch a bad chick by her toe" part)

Alexandra Burke, "All Night Long" (the only thing wrong with this song is that the best part is the backing "all night, all night, all night night night night" part, not the actual chorus melody. Other than that, it's just the sort of fun, lighthearted party song the summer demands)

Alphabeat, "DJ" (what's clearly the best song from their most recent album finally gets a single release)

Kesha, "Bootycall" (another Kesha leak/demo, this one could stand with the first few opening and final seconds getting cut, but the '80s candyfloss joy of the chorus and its overproduced '80s drums makes up for it)

Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull, "I Like It" (long live Enrique, even if the cynical side of me is unconvinced about staying power here. Plus, well, how can you begrudge him working with RedOne when he's the creator of what's obviously the best "RedOne + artist" tag ever in "Takin' Back My Love"?)

Baby Alice, "Piña Colada Boy" (gimmicky summer fun)

Aggro Santos feat. Kimberly Wyatt, "Candy" (the best thing about this dance-rap song is that the worst lyrics in it--heck, probably the worst lyrics all year--are the catchiest part, delivered in a staccato style so they're as easy to understand as possible, and transcend over into brilliantly awful: "girl. you. look. familiar. Where. do. I know. you. from?/Have. you. been. to. visit. me. at.")

Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris, "Break Your Heart" (one of my favorite pop songs of 2009, so who would have thought the insertion of a couple of Ludacris raps into it could possibly make me love it even more? The best thing Ludacris has done since Usher's "Yeah!", and we all know how amazing that was)

Rogue Traders, "Would You Raise Your Hands?" (back on track after the misfire of "Love Is A War," the Australian dance-rock team delivers a song that never fails to make me pick up the jogging pace)

Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, "California Gurls" (lightweight, but begging for successive summer plays...and do you know what? There's no point resisting)

Kids Of 88, "Just A Little Bit" (avoiding watching the video, loving this snappy electro-pop song from a two guy New Zealand act)

Jason Derulo, "Love Hangover" (broke down and bought his album just before leaving. It's not a must-own, but why is this not the next single instead of "Ridin' Solo"?)

Scissor Sisters, "Fire With Fire" (confession: the only Scissor Sisters song I've ever really enjoyed before this album campaign was "Paul McCartney." Maybe it's due to Jake is using his voice differently that this particular door opened up, but it's the joyous uplift of the Elton John-meets-the-Killers'-"Human"-but-better of the song itself that sealed the deal)

Mini Viva, "One Touch" (most thrilling Xenomania song since, what, at least "Miss You Bow Wow"? It's the attitude-filled fresh female sound that caused us all to fall in love with Girls Aloud)

Play, "Consequence Of You" (haven't really listened to the Swedish girl group's album, but there's no way there can be anything better than this song on it)

Throw in some random holdovers from spring--Matisse's "Better Than Her," Young Money's "BedRock" (cheesy puns are my weakness; see also: above picture), Lady GaGa's "Alejandro," Kesha's "Your Love Is My Drug," Gabriella Cilmi's "Superhot," etc.--and a few other songs--Dolly Rockers' "Automatic Girl," Taio's "Dynamite"--you've got the new additions. There's a whole summer playlist that gets rolled out, of course, but those standbys will have to compete with some great new songs from the past week or so. In fact, hmm, give me a few minutes...

(By the way, Crystal Bowersox and American Idol, you couldn't have had your hometown visit one week earlier or one week later? Really? It had to be during my previously scheduled and unmovable week away?)