Thursday, March 31, 2011

'Cause just when I think we're through, the memories come flooding back

The musical event you know you all were waiting for is finally here:

the studio version of the single from the combined New Kids On The Block-Backstreet Boys supergroup, the awesomely named NKOTBSB, has arrived.

With hooky synth staccato pulses and washes, a singalong chorus reminiscent of co-writer Claude Kelly's "In Your Head" for Jason Derulo but with less "seriousface intensity," lyrics that semi-function both in regards to a personal relationship and their relationship with the audience, "Don't Turn Out The Lights" takes up right where you would hope. It's a catchy pop song somewhere between mid- and up-tempo that won't alienate old fans but fits right into our post-RedOne pop universe.

There have been hints in the past few years that the two all-grown-up boy bands are capable of delivering songs that are both modern and in keeping with their earlier work. New Kids' 2008 comeback album The Block contained a surprising amount of songs that were not just relevant but actually good. I'm particularly partial to "Twisted," a synthy update of the boy band sound which surprised yet again by being a great Timbaland song right at that point where Timbaland's 2006 excellence was starting to fade out into the mediocrity faced by so many writers who suddenly have the whole world beating down their door.

The Backstreet Boys would take a little longer to return to electronic pop (and, once again most importantly, good songs), but they finally got there with 2009's This Is Us. It was still too full of filler, but, besides the enjoyable "Bigger"'s direct lift from their "I Want It That Way" past, it featured a few songs that put the group where they needed to be. Brian Kennedy twisted the joyful, synthy sound he brought to Chris Brown's "Forever" into something slightly more aggressive on "Masquerade," while "Bye Bye Love" was a floaty up-tempo song that danced between airy and insistent.

"Don't Turn Off The Lights" reunites the Backstreet Boys with "Bye Bye Love"'s Claude Kelly, but its other co-writers are a surprise: Emanuel Kiriakou and Jess Cates. Both are capable of good work, but I'd felt in the past that what they contributed to the Backstreet Boys counted amongst their forgettable pop-rock songs. Emanuel's contribution to The Block, "2 in the Morning," was one of its misfires (the world will never recover from "gotta know if you're mad at me/before Grey's Anatomy"). Further, in the past few years he's specialized in making ballads--including some great ones (David Archuleta's "Crush," for example), but I never would have expected him to have gone in this direction. I'm thankful to be this pleasantly surprised, though.

It's rare that your past musical tastes, modern chart trends, and your current preferences align. When it happens, there's a certain kind of joy that occurs, the kind that has you wondering if maybe you really should buy tickets to that tour you previously brushed off as you press repeat for the tenth time in a row. And really, nothing is better than that.

NKOTBSB's single "Don't Turn Out The Lights" comes out April 5 in the U.S. You'll be able to buy it from Amazon here (digital). "Don't Turn Out The Lights" will be followed by an album May 24 composed mainly of the two groups' old hits (though I suspect if "Don't Turn Out The Lights" did well they'd have more reason to record more new original songs).

(Hat tip to Robbie for alerting me to this important event.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tell me I'm your one and only

It's kind of getting wordy around here, so, straight to the point, here's a great mood-lifting pop song from Nicole Scherzinger's new album. Like the album's lead single, "Poison," it's produced by RedOne, but, much as I love it--which is a lot, considering it's currently the song I keep going back to on a surprisingly enjoyable although not filler-free album--I hope it never gets the single treatment. It's best served as a little album track treasure.

As others have said, her current single, "Don't Hold Your Breath," is a fantastic pop song. I hope it's not too late for it to take off in the U.S.

Nicole Scherzinger's debut solo album, Killer Love, is out now in the UK and can be purchased here (physical).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking in codes now

Sweden is lucky enough to be home to several of the most interesting, refreshing up-and-coming pop acts of the moment, all of them quite different. Le Kid makes pure pop decorated with big dollops of kitsch. Sound of Arrows make dreamy electronic pop.

I've been remiss, though, in not mentioning a third such exciting act: Viktorious.

In his earlier musical life as a member of the group Sugarplum Fairy, Viktor Norén helped create indie-friendly rock. His current music sheds almost all trappings of that sound, though. Neither is the self-styled superhero trafficking in Sweden's boy pop sound beloved by pure pop fans. He's still too new for us to know for sure what's going to characterize his music, but so far, it's bold electronic pop that I can't think of anyone else in the Swedish music scene at the moment making.

With that reference to distinctiveness out of the way, I must confess that the song I'm posting today from Viktorious is a tweaking of his debut single, last year's "When We Were 10," that pushes him back towards a musical sound we're all familiar with. It's a sound that I so adore, though, that I can't help giving it its moment in the sun.

When We Were 10 (Bassflow Remake) (Radio Rip) by poppostergirl

The sound in question? The surging pop production of Peter "Bassflow" Boström. No, I'm probably never going to stop singing his praises. In his remix of "When We Were 10," Peter takes us back to a sound anyone familiar with his work, be it his amazing Martin Stenmark remixes, Ola's "Natalie" and "S.O.S.", Charlotte Perrelli's "Hero," or any of his numerous other hits, will recognize. In the years since his reworkings of Martin Stenmarck's "Sjumilakliv" and "100 År Från Nu" took up frequent residence on Swedish radio, Bassflow remakes of pop-rock songs have become a popular way to entice P3 and Rix FM to play new singles. "When We Were 10 (Bassflow Remake)" is a great example of this little subgenre that can continue until the sun burns out as far as I'm concerned--it turns almost any song into a fist-pumping jolt of energy.

As for Viktorious, I'm very excited to see where he goes next. A new male singer who seems to be getting the electronic pop thing right is always welcome in my book. If you use Facebook, you can, as Swedish Stereo and #1 Hits From Another Planet have been reporting, download one free song each week from his website.

As one more side note, you have to appreciate a male singer signed to a major label who upon embarking upon a solo career outside of his indie-sounding rock group makes this one of the first photos he shares of himself online:

...with the caption "To celebrate the International Women‘s Day, here is Viktorious as a woman. Not just any woman, probably the best woman ever. Madonna, Like A Virgin. Looks pretty good, right? So if everything goes to hell, Viktorious can always become a drag queen. That‘s good to know!"

There's nowhere to purchase the Bassflow Remake of Viktorious's "When We Were 10" yet, but you can buy the original version here (digital).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm not quite finished with you

Will Tyler Hilton ever release his second major label studio album? Heaven knows I'm probably the only person who's never seen One Tree Hill to still be interested. Since 2004's The Tracks of Tyler Hilton, Tyler seems to have gone from EP to EP with a constantly dangled promise of The Storms We Share, said next album, always just out of our reach. I can't say I blame him or his record label--given the difficulty the young-guy-with-guitar model is having finding traction on top forty radio, the amount of time invested in this album seems unlikely to be compensated with mainstream success; digital EPS are a way of periodically making a guaranteed small amount from fans without having to spend much money on promotion.

That's a shame, though, because The Storms We Share contains some road trip-ready pop-rock songs. It may forsake the dance beats currently dominating the charts and may shy away from arena-ready blistering guitar solos, but it doesn't lack for energy. Albums like these run a risk of getting bogged down in introspective ballads, but the opening salvo of "Sunset Blvd.", "So Young," and "This World Will Turn Your Way" quickly assures listeners that Tyler is just as capable of writing soaring uptempo songs as he is slow songs about love and broken hearts. "16th Summer" ups the ante one more, with the hardest guitar sound we're probably going to get from Tyler. Even there, though, the licks are bookends to a big strummy chorus more concerned with a singalong melody than keeping the rocker vibe of the song going. That's no complaint, though; Tyler is best when giving himself over to gentle pop-rock hooks he's so good at making.

Most of the slower moments share those same strong hooks, though how they reframe them varies from the fuller, lusher sound of "Someday" to the sparser "Say It Like A Lie." There's nothing all the way to either end of the spectrum, though--The Storms We Share is never totally stripped back nor heavy on obvious studio work but instead opts for a "produced organic" sound somewhere in between. "I Believe In You" does a good job of showing off the benefits of that approach, with rushing waves of music eventually hushing for one of my favorite studio tricks for pop-rock groups: a two-thirds point emotional climax where a quiet repeated phrase is met with and overlapped by the singer also singing a second melody on top (see also: McFly's "Falling In Love").

09 Ain't A Thing by poppostergirl

Perhaps my favorite song, though, is the unassuming but excellent "Ain't A Thing," co-written with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum. Mid-tempo, it finds Tyler assuring an ex "you ain't a thing without me" through a quietly, irresistibly catchy chorus. As confident as Tyler's boasts are, though, there are enough hints that he was on the receiving end of the break-up to prevent the song from coming across as overly brash--instead, it's either the strutting break-up anthem we all wish we could honestly sing or a crushed heart putting on a brave show, depending on the listener's emotional state at the time. If you listen closely, there are signs of "Ain't A Thing"'s country heritage, but a twangless delivery from Tyler positions "Ain't A Thing" solidly in pop-rock territory.

It feels like damning with slight praise to say that The Storms We Share is the best mainstream pure pop-rock album I've heard in several years; the competition hasn't exactly been fierce. Still, if there isn't room for songs this strong sung by the rare man who has just enough grit in his voice to give them weight and not so much as to be abrasive, then something is truly wrong with America's current musical climate.

Tyler Hilton's album The Storms We Share is not yet available, but in the meantime, you can buy his most recent EPs on iTunes internationally here. The Ladies and Gentlemen EP, for example, contains four of the songs on the version of the album I heard: "Sunset Blvd.", "I Believe In You," "This World Will Turn Your Way," and "Keep On."

(On a totally personal, frivolous note, I'd like to dedicate a sentence to how much I love "Kiss On" from The Tracks of Tyler Hilton: A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dreamin' that you would be good for me

I'm officially on board the Sky Ferreira bandwagon.

Though she's had enjoyable tracks before, I'm taken aback by just how much I'm won over by the young American singer's delivery of the songs on her new As If! EP. Even on a frothy, messy trifle like "99 Tears," Sky holds the whole thing together by--well, perhaps not force of personality yet, but through the emotions that slip through. Just listen to the surprisingly grown-up way the sometimes-Lolita sings "don't you know that" and "karma karma" in the song's bridge. It's a small detail, but it's the sort of thing I mean when I refer to someone as a good singer: not necessarily technical range (though supposedly Sky has that, too) but the capability of inducing surprising little shivers down your spine with what they convey through tone.

"99 Tears," produced by Greg Kurstin, is a fun listen, but for my money, the two standout tracks on the EP are "Traces" and "Haters Anonymous." "Haters Anonymous" is the sound of Bloodshy & Avant messing around with skittery electro again, though this time they've melded that upgraded "Piece of Me" sound, channeled through Sky muttering about Internet commenter culture in the verses and a robo-voiced middle eight, with a surprisingly innocent-sounding big poppy chorus.

"Traces," co-written by rising singer-songwriters Neon Hitch and Colin Munroe, leaked in low quality months ago, but what a difference crystal-clear audio makes. A song I previously disregarded has revealed itself to be one of those big emotional electronic mid-tempos I so adore, the kind where you feel dragged down by the heaviness of each deep, measured beat. It's the sort of song to make you forget all about Sky's interview persona and fall head-over-heels for this girl who shouldn't have fallen in love with a boy.

I've felt let down recently by a usually reliable singer who, despite a couple of great singles and a pair of enjoyable tracks, delivered an album that even her special pop voice couldn't stop from feeling soulless. I'm not ready to give up on her--I never will--and the plethora of Sky songs we've heard have varied too greatly in quality for me to count on her as pop's next great thing, but there are moments on As If! that indicate Sky could, if given the chance, develop into something special. Let's hope the commercial stumbling blocks she's faced so far don't stop that from happening--the world may need another great popstar sooner than we think.

As of tomorrow, residents of the U.S. will be able to buy Sky Ferreira's As If! EP here (digital).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Time is ticking

There are a bunch of things in the music world that need to be discussed--the new Britney album, some new Eurovision songs, finally having the studio version of Danny's "Catch Me If You Can"--but with the Melodifestival final starting in less than two hours, Sweden's national selection for Eurovision has to take priority.

Half the time I don't know what I truly feel about any given entry until I have a gut reaction to how it ends up ranked. As of right now, though, I'd be happiest with a Danny win. I have a rising concern about the Moniker, though, and I'd certainly rather see Eric Saade take it instead of him.

In terms of solely my personal preferences--ignoring the odds of any of this actually happening--I'd be most pleased by a victory for Danny (in my top three favorite songs for this year as well as my favorite song and my favorite performance package of the entries remaining), Eric (there's still a missing ingredient for me, I'm frustrated that better similar entries in past years have been rejected and this one might win, and in the unlikely event that Danny should end up seriously challenging him the detachment I feel from Eric's entry would intensify, but when the song and presentation are taken together it's tough to deny that it averages out to be one of the night's best entries), Swingfly (a messy on-stage presentation, but the song is a lot of fun and gives me that rush of joy I wish I got from "Popular," even if I'm not sure that it's actually better in the long run), or Linda Bengtzing (she's had better songs and better performances but I love her and her infectious enthusiasm and enjoy "E det fel på mig"). I'd be fine with Brolle winning as well. After that, my enthusiasm would drop off precipitously, but it wouldn't feel like the end of the world if Sara Varga won. Despite its great production and great singer (though, truth be told, she's using a side of her voice here that I don't hugely enjoy), Sanna's song still leaves me cold. I like "The King" a good bit (yes, really) but feel like the Playtones' performance is a black hole for charisma. Any of the aforementioned choices would be better than the remaining two, though; Nicke Borg or the Moniker winning would leave me distraught.

Still, we should be in for a great show. Though songs I loved were lost along the way to Globen, I'm actually pretty happy with the line-up we'll be facing. Yes, two of the songs that would have made the best impression internationally were lost in Andra Chansen last week, but this year's final nevertheless includes mostly enjoyable songs that, even if they wouldn't make for great Eurovision entries, make for great entertainment.

Monday, March 07, 2011

You could be all that you want

Sometimes, when you disappear from the Internet for a while, you miss things.

Big things. Important things. Like, say, the fact that DARIN IS RECORDING A NEW ALBUM WITH AWESOME PRODUCERS.

What finally clued me in to this fact was a tweet from him today saying he was recording with Anders Bagge (who has done so many songs that his discography quality varies) and Johan Kronlund. Even better news is that a month ago he apparently was recording with Niklas Bergwall (formerly of 2N, the production team behind Kate Ryan's hits) and LO-FI-FNK. Seriously, let's just repeat that: Darin is recording with Lo-Fi-FNK.

I'm sure this was covered on blogs a month ago, but since I only just found out now, I need to emphasize how awesome that is. Lo-Fi-Fnk are the kind of cool but pop-friendly electro pop duo that Sweden seemed to be producing every other day a few years ago, but they're one of the best. I've been eager for new material from them, but I had no idea they'd moved into producing for other people as well. Their version of "Want U" is probably a good indicator of their sound, though it's a little less boyish than Boylife, the album that preceded it. So you can hear that sound, I've embedded "Steppin' Out" from that album as well. Darin recording with them is the sort of slightly left-field but smart choice that reaffirms my faith in him as a popstar (not that it needed to be reaffirmed).

I'm so glad Darin had his big ballad moment. I love Tony Nilsson and I loved their work together; "You're Out Of My Life" was one of my favorite singles of last year and much of the Lovekiller album contained big, lovely, '80s-styled pop songs.

Still, it's time for something different and this news about his new album collaborators couldn't be more welcome. Lo-Fi-Fnk and Niklas Bergwall (definitely worth getting excited about in his own right--I enjoy almost everything he does and most of what he does is dancey pop) certainly indicate a change of direction. I literally don't think I could be more excited.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Still I'm hopelessly in love

A quick note: all my support in today's Melodifestival second chance round goes to Loreen...which means she will lose her first duel and I'll be left bereft for the rest of the show. If Loreen should fail to advance, I'd like it to go to Love Generation, but really, they're a distant second. I do genuinely enjoy all four of the songs in the top bracket, though--just don't try to remind me of that fact immediately after Loreen gets knocked out.

I'm much less picky about the second bracket. I'd be happy with anyone besides the Moniker...which means he'll probably win (I think there's actually a good chance of that happening, too, which scares me).

As always, you'll be able to stream Melodifestivalen starting at 2 PM EST here.

(Photo credit to Lina Bostrom Einarsson.)

Wanna make you scream my name

Well, at least Rachel should be happy...

It's felt inevitable that we'd see Alexey Vorobyov at Eurovision one day since he popped up in the 2008 Russian national final. That was the year Dima Bilan won (and would go on to win Eurovision) and the year Sergey Lazarev took fourth, but Alexey still managed to be a standout in a long, messy final.

Even if he'd won, he would never have stood a chance at making it to Eurovision. You actually had to wonder if the people behind him--or the panel in charge of approving the Russian songs--knew anything about the contest other than its name; Eurovision songs must be wholly original and though there are often accusations by fans that particular elements of a song have been borrowed from another, there was no disputing the fact that Alexey's song sampled another: the famous Russian folk song "Kalinka." Why was it indisputable? Well, Alexey's entry was actually called "New Russian Kalinka." Alexey had basically taken the melody of that song and worked it into an R&B-pop song of the "clearly influenced by 2006 Timbaland" sound his competitor Dima was in love with.

Still, even as international fans watched the webstream agog at the fact that "New Russian Kalinka" had somehow made it into the contest, Alexey's performance hinted at star potential. Partly it was the fact that he was a cute young guy; there are, apparently, few things Eurovision fans like more. In addition, though, he managed to hold together the whole patently ridiculous performance, turning what could have been a car crash into a fun three minutes and one of the few moments of the night worth remembering later. He wasn't, metaphorically speaking, a star yet, but it seemed a certainty that that night would set him on the road to becoming a star.

Now comes the news that Alexey will be representing Russia at Eurovision 2011 with a song penned by RedOne. I should be enthusiastic about this. I liked Alexey that night and, though I can't say I've kept close tabs on his career, in the time since he's made indications of growing into the popstar everyone expected (even covering a song from Darin's Break The News at one point). I hope that, when I hear "Get You," I'll finally feel that enthusiasm.

Somehow, though, I'm left feeling...underwhelmed. Maybe it has something to do with the way this whole thing feels like the inevitable fulfillment of what began that night in 2008. There's just something so...expected about it. Russia is clearly seeking to repeat the Dima Bilan 2008 template here: young, cute (to some) guy singing a song by one of the world's top songwriters/producers. There's absolutely no logical reason to hold "inevitability" against Alexey, though--if he stood out in his introduction because he was good, shouldn't I be happy to see a good performer get his due?

I should. I hope I will be. Give me a few days.

Jag kan klara mig själv, kan gå ut varje kväll, kommer hem när jag vill

The demo CD of the Melodifestival boxset is pretty fascinating. Fascinating enough that it's already got me wishing for a sequel, even if the singers are more Agnetha Körsvik and Anette Ingemarsson & Ida Segersten than Linda Bengtzing and Måns Zelmerlöw.

7-17 Jag ljuger så bra by poppostergirl

Noting the changes a song goes through between being demoed and being properly debuted is something only a schlager nerd would love--but that's what I am, so it's thrilling to hear the considerably different lyrics on Agnetha Körsvik's "Hero," the way "Night Of Passion" was completely rearranged (as well as lyrically tweaked) for the Poodles, or the different way Jessica Andersson sings "Jag ljuger så bra."

Often the changes were ultimately for the better; I prefer the lyrics to Charlotte's version of "Hero." Still, for those of us who will never get to sit with a songwriter as they hone a song into the best version of itself it can be, listening to demos like these is the next best thing.

As I mentioned recently, Linda Bengtzing's "Jag ljuger så bra" is quite possibly my favorite schlager song of all time, and definitely in the top ten. I had no expectations that Jessica Andersson's demo would surpass it in my affections, especially without the benefit of having ever been given the final polish a song actually to be released receives. It doesn't, but I'm very glad to have it.

Jessica, going solo after considerable Melodifestival success as half of Fame, faced a devil of a choice in 2006: if I'm remembering correctly, she could have sung either "Jag ljuger så bra" ("I'm Such a Good Liar") or "Kalla nätter" ("Cold Nights"), two of the best songs ever to compete in Melodifestivalen. She chose the latter, a Rachel Stevens-esque modern pop song, but unfortunately failed to make it out of her semifinal after a nervous performance that was better in theory than in reality. Linda took the former, a string-featuring classically styled schlager song with some of Ingela "Pling" Försman's best lyrics, and went straight to the final.

Jessica's demo reveals that she didn't sing "Jag ljuger så bra" with the spunk of Linda; Linda sells the song with charming bravado that enhances the lie of the song's protagonist, who brags to her ex about how life is better without him while secretly wanting him back. I'm glad she made the choice she did--both of them, in studio, are perfectly suited to the songs they ended up with. Still, hearing Jessica's voice on an uptempo schlager song makes me wish once again for the album we could have had if "Kalla nätter" and "Du får för dig att du förför mig" had taken off instead of the one we got once retro ballad "I Did It For Love" did well in 2010.

(Edit: a bit of research I should have done earlier reveals that Jessica was also offered and turned down "Evighet," which went to Carola and became the eventual winner of Melodifestivalen 2006. Also, as Alexander and this interview point out, "Jag ljuger så bra" was written specifically for and about Jessica, who was in the process of divorcing her husband at the time. However, when both the songs she sang on, "Jag ljuger så bra" and "Kalla nätter, were accepted into Melodifestivalen, she had to make a choice. She alludes to pressure from Bert Karlsson factoring into the decision she made and says that "Jag ljuger så bra" still feels, to her, like her song.)

You can purchase the gold edition of Melodifestivalen 10 År På Turné 2002-2011, which contains the demo CD, here (physical). I'm eager for my copy to arrive so I can start the two years it will probably take me to finish reading the included book.

Friday, March 04, 2011

I leave it all behind

As mentioned a few posts ago, Scandipop and Swedish Stereo recently featured thirty-second clips of Danny's new album, In The Club.

Now, another site has posted sixty-second clips of each of the songs. Listen to them here. "Catch Me If You Can" is still the song I'm most eager to have my hands on--it's the era of "oh oh oh"s, apparently. If you click on the song titles, you can also see some (though not all) of the songwriters for each track (albeit in a messy way).

While we're speaking of clips of Melodifestival albums, Eric Saade previewed another song from his upcoming album for Expressen. Eric may not say a name, but if you made me guess, I'd say it's going to be called "Timeless." It's written with Jason Gill (he of some of my favorite songs from Måns Zelmerlöw--"Hold On," "Rewind," "Freak Out"--and Darin--"Paradise"--as well as of Sofia's "Hypnotized"). Eric also mentions two other co-writers who I'm guessing are Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson.

Schlagerprofilerna and Tobbe recently revealed the tracklist for the Melodifestival box set's demo CD (which is out today in Sweden). By my count, at least seven eight of the songs have been heard before (Sarah Dawn Finer's "Not A Sinner Nor A Saint," "Surrender To My Heart," Lina Hedlund's "Alla flickor," Camilla Blom Polfeldt's "Gone," Friends' "Give Me Your Love," Shirley Clamp's "A Miracle," and Sonja Aldén's "Invincible," though if I've missed one please let me know EDIT: Andrés Esteche's "Tango! Tango!" as well), but this is the first time we've been able to purchase most of them. It is, as I thought it might be, heavy on recordings by demo singers as opposed to people who were established artists at the time of the songs' recordings, but since we love many people who were previously backing and session singers--Shirley Clamp, Sonja Aldén--it should still be a treat to get to hear their vocals on songs we love. I think Jessica Andersson's version of "Jag ljuger så bra" may be the song I'm most interested to hear. Linda Bengtzing's recording is often my favorite schlager song ever, so I don't necessarily expect Jessica's version to surpass it--just provide an alternative from a singer who I desperately wish was still recording music in that style.

I've had it with shame, I've had it with sorrow

There are, oh, a few dozen songs already released this year that I feel I need to cover at some point to give even a half-accurate impression of where I'm at with music in 2011. I've never been particularly timely with my coverage, but you may see a few more egregious examples pop up in the future (and it's only going to get worse--I'm still thinking about discussing not just my favorite singles from 2010 but also my favorites from 2009...because there's nothing more thrilling than reading some random person on the Internet's personal reactions to two year old songs you're tired of hearing discussed).

Breaking Up With God by theark

Case File #1 is the Ark's "Breaking Up With God." The bad news: it's one of the last songs we'll ever hear from the Swedish rock group--they're calling it quits after they finish promoting their greatest hits. The good news: it's their best single since State of the Ark's one-two punch of "One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young" and "Clamour For Glamour."

"Breaking Up With God" also pulls off the tricky feat of sounding thoroughly in keeping with the group's previous work while also filling a musical niche none of the Ark's previous singles did. It has the energy of the aforementioned State of the Ark singles, but it achieves the emotional release of earlier songs like "It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane" and "Calleth You Cometh I."

Unlike those songs, though, "Breaking Up With God" goes about creating that release through the closest the group has come to a party song. The cleverness and opaqueness of the Ark's lyrics means I've never really thought of them as band whose songs work in the "lost in the music" way associated with the best dance songs, though their work performs the traditional "rock outsider" role of creating a communal feeling that transforms even your bedroom into a packed gig full of people reveling to anthems.

While it has a high tempo and kicky beat, "Breaking Up With God" is clearly no dance song. It can be danced to, though, as lead singer Ola Salo proved in his characteristically flamboyant way at last week's Melodifestival semifinal (I hope this isn't the last we'll see of Ola as a recording artist, by the way--hard as it is to imagine him without the rest of the band, the world would miss the effortless charisma he gives off even when he seems half-bored). No, "Breaking Up With God" is definitely pop-rock, albeit with a sound that pays less clear homage to the '70s than some of the Ark's earlier work. That's "Breaking Up With God"'s second trick: while bearing guitar work and occasional vocal harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place in the '70s, more than anything it sounds timeless.

The best trick of all, though, is that previously mentioned sense of uplifting, lost-in-the-music release, the kind you never would have expected to find in a song that deals seriously with concerns about religion. How the Ark pull off comparing the Sword of Damocles to a cross and then singing "I heard the call, but I won't follow 'cause now I'm breaking up with God...and the Devil too" without seeming preachy or pretentious but instead like the best party band you've ever heard is something I'll never understand. "Breaking Up With God" is well-written in all areas--music, melody, and lyrics--and grand in smart ways, too, without dwelling on the grandness. In short, it's the epitome of everything I've ever loved about the Ark.

I have a history of overhyping songs released in the first quarter of the year and then considerably dialing back my opinion by December. Still, if there's been a better expression of synth-free pop-rock joy in the past five years, I can't think of it.

The Ark's greatest hits, Arkeology, can be purchased here (physical) and on iTunes internationally here. Alternatively, it's available at this digital music store that has no country restrictions.

(Photo credit to Sven Lindwall of Expressen.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Not gonna be anything but loud

Melodifestivalen may have finished introducing new songs for the year, but there's still one thing we fans have to look forward to (besides Andra Chansen and the final): Melodifestival-related albums.

I'm not just talking about this year's Melodifestival album (and its exciting demos). We also have a number of artists who competed in this year's contest who are releasing albums. All except the last of the albums listed below is out already or will be released in the next few weeks. International customers should be able to buy any of the CDs listed below from Bengans or Megastore.

Melody Club have already released Human Harbour. You can listen to previews here.

Previews of In The Club, the new album from Danny, can be listened to here. It's only eight tracks, with one repeated from Set Your Body Free and including his earlier unnecessary cover of "In Your Eyes", but otherwise they almost all sound pretty great. Thanks to Swedish Stereo and Scandipop for the tip!

Making up for Danny's dearth of songs is Anniela's Electric, which, at fifteen tracks, includes the English version of her entry "Elektrisk" (and, somewhat bafflingly, a cover of September's "Sin Of My Own") and is out March 14. The quality ratio probably won't be quite as high, but I imagine will get some fun tracks out of it. Preview clips are here.

Swingfly is repackaging his debut album with his Melodifestival entry and a new song with Pauline. It's out March 4 and is titled Awesomeness: An Introduction To Swingfly. Yes, really. That's going straight in this year's "Best Brilliantly Ridiculous Pop Words" contenders.

Linda Bengtzing gives us one new track, "Män i uniform," on her greatest hits album. Preview it here.

Sanna Nielsen has a new album out. Unfortunately, the previews have left me underwhelmed, especially considering the nice surprise of her Celine Dion-like last album, but maybe the songs sound better in full. Thanks to Schlagerfiasko for the preview link and to Scandipop who earlier debuted clips.

Anders Fernette's years-in-the-making album Run comes out March 11. His record label uploaded a few new songs from it to SoundCloud and they pretty much sound like I expected they would--if he's never been to your taste before, they won't win you over, but they work for me (in, admittedly, a not incredibly long term way).

We don't have any new preview for Le Kid's album, but we do have a title--and, predictably for this group, it's amazing: Oh, Alright! Yes, still one of my most anticipated albums of the past few years, even if "Oh My God" did underwhelm me.