Norrsken – Elin Överfjord

This song isn’t really thaaaaat new, but it has grown on me a HELL of a lot since I first heard it three months ago. Basically, Elin Överfjord is another underappreciated Swedish pop goddess, and Norrsken is her third offering. It’s a bit less instant than her other two singles, but it holds up reeeally well to repeat listening. I almost found it a bit underwhelming initially – this girl (or her writers, anyway) really know their way around a hook, and Norrsken isn’t as in-your-face as Nu or Störst. Two or three plays later, though, and that chorus totally has you.

One of the (many) things I love about Elin is how like, fresh she seems. The idea of ‘raw’ talent is so cliche these days, but her songs don’t have the (soulless) polish of some of her contemporaries, and that for me makes them all the better. Norrsken is a thumping, shimmering electropop gem with a 2013-esque semi-dubstep-ish break for a chorus, and I promise that in practice that is so much better than I’m selling it to be. There’s actually almost a touch of the Ellie Goulding about the highs she hits in the chorus, only 500x less irritating.

Seeriously though, file her under one-to-watch. Exceptional.

Blickar kan mörda – Josef Johansson

Josef Johansson was pretty much the best thing about Melodifestivalen this year, for me, Hela Natten was nothing short of magical. Trying to top a song as perfect as that is no mean feat, but thankfully it looks as if he’s made a pretty decent stab at it with Blickar Kan Mörda.

Blickar Kan Mörda is super synthy (YAY) and a bit of a change of pace from Hela Natten, although it still kind of carries Hela Natten’s BIG, epic scope. I am super down with the way he brings something more ‘fun’ and danceable to the table, without losing any of his alt edge or coolness. Just awesome, excellently crafted, perfect late summer synthpop.

So, all in all, Josef Johansson is still fucking amazing and I’m super wired to see what comes next.

What Are You Waiting For? – The Saturdays

It’s strange to think that The Saturdays have been around long enough to have a greatest hits, no? It seems absolutely insane to me that six years have passed since we first heard If This Is Love, but here we are in 2014 with a ‘best of’ offering that showcases EIGHTEEN of their singles. And much to my surprise, it’s not actually a bad little collection at all. (The definitive ranking of Sats singles is 1. All Fired Up 2. Higher 3. What About Us? 4. Never Giving Up …………. 18. Just Can’t Get Enough, ugh)

There’s something of the underdog about The Saturdays that just make them seem so endearing. I cannot ever remember a time when it didn’t feel that they were one flop single away from being dropped. Even still, at the point of their greatest hits, there’s the impression that if it isn’t a hit, it’s game over. At this moment in time, to quote the stream of negativity you find when mentioning The Sats are on DS or Popjustice: the band are having to rely on sponsorship and product placement to make videos, radio don’t playlist their tracks, their reality show was cancelled after just one series, when they take part in other shows they don’t make it past week one, their tour sales are underwhelming, their singles fade super quick and their album sales are totally pedestrian. But still, The Saturdays endure. One single flops and six months later we’re back with another glossy piece of electropop that’s excellent yet similarly doomed to fail. The Saturday’s journey has been a series of flops and false starts, but that only serves to make them more likeable, and the (relative) highs seem even higher.

Having been borne out of the shadow of Girls Aloud, it feels as though the band haven’t had that one, career defining, iconic moment that really elevates them to the iconic status they deserve. This, I guess, raises the question – is What Are You Waiting For? going to be that all important breakout track? It’s NOISY. It’s loud, bold, brash. It’s pretty much The Sats doing their best Icona Pop impressions. It’s actually pretty great, classic Xenomania. But a career defining iconic megahit this is not. In fact, if it scrapes top 20 I’ll be surprised. So I guess it’s all about enjoying it while it lasts – The Saturdays have pretty much defined British girlband pop over the past 5 or so years. Whatever happens sales-wise, this is another great addition to an already excellent discography, long may The Sats hold out!

PS, their greatest hits megamix is WELL worth 7 minutes of your time. Excellent.

Honors – John Dahlbäck feat. Rebecca & Fiona

Rebecca & Fiona are basically the thinking person’s Icona Pop. (Sorry Icona Pop I love you but still it’s true) Their song Candy Love is one of my favourite songs of the year so far, hiding hidden depth and emotion behind glossy beats and their signature bored-speaky-shouty-vocodery vocals. Honors is quite the opposite. The glossy beats and bored-speaky-shouty-vocodery vocals remain, but the song is so stunningly vacuous. There is literally no depth whatsoever, which is the key to its brilliance. Rebecca & Fiona are singing about a broken-down relationship, but it feels empty, hollow, devoid of feeling in the most excellent way possible.

It is the PERFECT end of the night song. Ten minutes before the club shuts, a few G&Ts too many, it’s summery, glacially cool and it breaks out in a MAJOR way, legitimately, what could be better? I can hear the drunk ramblings of my friends shouting along to it in my head already.

Honors isn’t anything we haven’t heard before, but at the same time it feels like it’s really nailed the vibe it was going for. Super synthy, there’s a warmth to the melody totally at odds to the vocals, which makes for a more-interesting-than-your-average listening experience. For me, at least, electro-house doesn’t really get any better than this.

Sidebar: I seemingly cannot escape seeing Rebecca & Fiona’s H&M ads everywhere. They make pastel blue/pink hair look so good in a way that makes me alarmingly tempted to do it to myself. Can you even begin to imagine?

Do It Again – Röyksopp & Robyn

It’s been four months since my last post. I’ve worked (a lot), traveled across eight countries, been to Eurovision, lost 15lbs, regained 10, discovered a weird quasi-liking for country music, listened to a LOT of Lyyke Li & George Ezra, spent pretty much every penny I’ve earned and probably spent a grand total of about ten seconds thinking about blogging. Chronic laziness is a major problem of mine, but something has clicked and the urge to post again has taken over.

Röyksopp & Robyn have a lot to do with that, I guess. There was absolutely no way this was not going to be one of my favourite musical moments of the year, both parties are masters of electropop. Melody-AM and the Body Talk series are two of the finest electropop moments of the past decade, in my opinion. Often, when two titans such as these come together, the results are underwhelming. In the past, their collaborations have been so-so. There are no words to express just how far from underhwelming or so-so the Do It Again EP is.

As majestic as the opening track Monument, Do It Again is my favourite cut. For me, it pitches the strentghs and sensibilities of both artists in perfect tandem, mixing classic, commercial and cool with unabashed ease. Three months on from it’s unveiling, the song has lost none of it’s lustre. It’s a little masterclass in pacing, structure and word stress – Robyn’s trademark disinterest in the Do It … Ah … gain is so oddly fascinating. And what better excuse to draw it forward than the unveiling of a glossy new video? Truly, artists at the top of their game.

I Blame Myself – Sky Ferreira

I feel like I start an exasperatingly large proportion of these posts indicating that I’ve been a fan of said artist for forever, which is totally obnoxious of me, I do apologize. That being said, I have actually been a fan of Sky Ferreira since her excellent Bloodshy & Avant produced debut One, and it has been a total rollercoaster from that point until now, which I’m sure you’re aware of if you have the internet and have read Pitchfork at any point over the past 4 or 5 years. Anyway, the endgame of this particular jumble of sentences is that I feel weirdly proud of Sky for managing to even get an album out at all, amidst all the elements conspiring against her, let alone an album so incredible.

Night Time, My Time is that rare beast, the album that manages to please (virtually) everyone – Sky’s old pop fanbase and the more alternative crowd she’s been courting of late. And amidst this glimmering jewel of an album, I Blame Myself not only holds it’s own, but shines amongst the brightest. The song is mostly fueled by a sense of angst, but don’t let that deceive you – it never feels indulgent or bratty, in fact quite the opposite. For a time, at least, Sky was known more for being a ‘model’ or a ‘socialite’, more interested in the celebrity than the music, not an artist to be taken seriously – the song feels like a mature statement of defiance, accepting and owning her past decisions and saying a colossal fuck you to those who doubted her. It’s specific and self-referential enough to hold meaning to those like myself who’ve followed Sky’s tale, anthemic and relateable enough to appeal to a wider base, it’s remarkable.

As ever with Sky, with success of any kind controversy follows. Some have banded about the word ‘racist’, suggesting that she uses the African-American back up dancers as “props”, much like her tour-mate Miley Cyrus was accused of last year. (Sidebar: Miley, Sky & Icona Pop? This sounds PHENOMENAL.) Sky, as ever, answered comprehensively and eloquently, I’m pretty happy to take her word. If you get a chance, the video is well worth a watch, although frustratingly you can only do that at the moment over here on the Ssense website.

In a way, it sums Sky up as an artist perfectly. It’s personal, dark and engaging, whilst at the same time literally functioning as a glorified advert for SSense. Commercial sensibilities mixed with a more alternative attitude, controversy, GREAT music, Sky looking badass, what more could you ask for?

Crazy Something Normal – Donkeyboy

Crazy Something Normal is the latest release from Donkeyboy, the second cut from their eagerly anticipated (by me at least) third album and it’s excellent. Donkeyboy being excellent isn’t really headline news, I find them criminally underrated – since we heard Ambitions in 2009 it’s been a steady stream of greatness from Norway’s finest. I really do think their ability to play around the poppier end of the synthpop spectrum is unparallelled and for that we should really celebrate Donkeyboy a little bit more. Seriously, can you think of another band that could have made both this and Triggerfinger and pulled it off in such a natural way? Here are five (of many) reasons why Crazy Something Normal is so fantastic:

- It’s the most commercial thing we’ve heard from Donkeyboy since Ambitions, and that’s a good thing. Of course, being Donkeyboy, there’s a synth element to the song, however this time it’s diffused with summery guitar pop. Interesting stuff, and it makes for something pretty fresh sounding, but really it’s out and out pop, and totally unapolagetic about it.

- The results are decidedly more friendly sounding than the usual Donkeyboy releases, yet there’s still a glorious detachment and sadness to it all that totally speaks to me. Upbeat sadness, totally my vibe.

- The song features a children’s choir and yet I don’t hate it, this is entirely unheard of. Not even the mighty Loreen managed to pull that off without making me stabby.

- There are some awesome WOAHHHHs in there. Like I’m sure I’ve mentioned a million times, I’m powerless to resist a good WOAHHH section.

- The video is actually pretty awesome too. Cato’s clothing game is ON (I need those print trousers in my life somehow, someone hook me up?) as is his hair game. There’s an army of dancing spray paint cans, that are actually both midlly horrifying and fun. Donkeyboy have this totally nerdly little dance with points and clicks and claps and I’m in love, seriously, they’ve never looked so attractive.

Anyone else as pumped as I am for album 3?

West Coast – Lana Del Rey

Like everyone with ears and the internet today, I want to talk Del Rey. First of all though, I’m going to cut the hyperbole – no this isn’t the best song ever omfg so amazing y u sley us like this Lana. That being said, I do think it’s nothing short of genius.

Lana Del Rey is one of my absolute all time favourites. The overriding sense of glamorous melancholy that undercuts all of her work irrevocably draws me in. I think she’s masterful in the way she combines her music with such powerful imagery, there’s something quite cinematic and poetic in all of her work that manages to capture an authenticity that I find quite beautiful. I’m definitely drawn towards an Americana vibe regardless, I did my dissertation on the works of John Cheever & Richard Yates and I felt like Born To Die operated within the same overlap on the venn diagram as those masters, somewhere in the interlink between boredom, hope, gloominess and kitsch that I find hugely appealing. And it all reached its apex in Ride, the peak of Lana Del Rey-ishness – it really felt that if Lana pushed those tropes any further it could and would have tipped into self-parody.

And this is where I think the genius comes into play. West Coast manages to capture the essence of what makes a Lana Del Rey song, and yet it moves on – it flirts with the electronic in a way that’s both dreamy and slightly menacing – it’s almost like there’s a bit of an 80s vibe happening here. Lana’s voice is characteristically stuck between bored and sultry. Thematically, it’s vintage Del Rey, bursting with classic imagery. There’s more than a touch of the Tarantino about it all. I think to evolve so subtly yet so noticeably really is the mark of a true artist, Ultraviolence already looks an incredibly intriguing prospect.

That’s without even mentioning the video. A black and white beach postcard on loop – it’s freedom, containment, ecstacy, anguish, hope, inevitability, isolation, romance and I’m obsessed.

La Vérité – Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains

Because everything sounds better in French.

Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains are another act I’ve got really into while I’ve been on my little blogging hiatus. They’re signed to Domino, and so thus are serious and credible, but ultimately they just make really well crafted, summery guitar pop and it’s really fucking great. They’ve been doing it for a while, actually – their last album E Volo Love was strong and established a pretty solid audience for the band. From personal experience, I probably played it two or three times, but after a month it fell out of my rotation and I pretty much didn’t play any of their songs again for about two years.

Whatever it was that was lacking, La Vérité has it in spades – it’s fun, infectious and so cheerful. Normally any kind of combination of those words makes me break out in hives, but I think what works so well here is that none of it seems forced or try hard. Frànçois just kind of seems like an awesome, super chill French dude who happens to make totally charming, likeable guitar pop instinctively. There’s no cynicism here, no Wombats-esque “look how mad and crazy and creative we are EEEE” to it all, no Kooks-y trying so hard about it all. Maybe the fact that they’re French adds a chicness, a glossy sheen to it all, but I don’t care how stupid it sounds, I’m buying it.

I defy ANYONE to listen to this two or three times and not smile on the inside.

Save Me (This Is An SOS) – Helena Paparizou

So it turns out I haven’t blogged for like, a month. I have a new job and I’d actually forgot how tiring this full-time work business is, and basically I’m compulsively lazy and forming my opinions into semi-coherent sentences is effort. But I HAVE been listening. A lot. A hell of a lot, actually. One of the (many) things I’ve got really into over the past month is Helena Paparizou here’s new album, One Life, especially it’s ill-fated lead single Save Me (This Is An SOS). The song isn’t new, but w0 it’s good.

Helena put Save Me out nearly a year ago to pretty much total indifference. She promoted the shit out of it in Sweden and STILL no-one cared. I have to admit, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me at the time – I remember finding it all a bit clunky and filing it in the ‘not to be listened to again’ box in my head. But then Melodifestivalen happened, somehow, after the competition ended, Survivor became one of my favourites from this year’s crop of songs. MF putting Helena back onto my radar was only a good thing, One Life was an unexpected delight, and to my total surprise Save Me (This Is An SOS) stood out as particularly great. What I find especially brilliant about the song is that it completely successfully reconciles Helena’s Greek influences with a killer Swedish production – the two sides to her background come together gloriously. I find a pop song with an ethnic vibe hard to resist, and here I think the emphasis on the laïko sound in the verses works gloriously in contrast to the vocoder heavy choruses. Helena’s voice is so full of character, charisma and personality, it exudes a whole lot of fun, energy and charm. Suddenly the clunky lyrics seem playful, tongue-in-cheek and the right side of campy. Seriously, who can resist “My heart is in distress/this is an SOS” as a lyric? The overall effect is as infectious as cholera, but in a good way.

I do find myself wondering how I could have written Save Me off when it’s clearly the brilliant throwback to her Eurovision winning glory days and the sequel to Mambo I’ve been patiently waiting for all this time. It really kicks off the album in remarkable style. There’s also a killer performance of it here at the Mad Video Music Awards in Greece mixed in with Gala’s Freed From Desire. It’s possibly not live, but who gives a fuck, girl can perform. (Sidebar – Compare Helena in that video to her album cover. It’s CRAZY how much Helena’s new hair colour is ageing her. She definitely seems to have caught a seerious case of Sanna Nielsen-esque old-before-her-time-ness over the past year. I love you Helena but please dye your hair back.)