Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: RUSSIA

On we go. Nine "new" songs, lots to say about them. Welcome to the man known only as Brittle Lemon (BL), recovering ex-blogger who's been "starting" a music blog for about five months now.

If you're playing the Umlauts Drinking Game at home, I suggest you take a drink every time something is praised by comparing it to Girls Aloud. You'll be incapable of driving or operating heavy machinery by the time the last song comes on.

1. BRATIA GRIMM - Resnitsy
EO: 6, IM: 6, BL: 2, SN: 5, MT: 0, DV: 2. Adjusted score: 3

JP: This sounds a bit like Lonely No More by Rob Thomas played backwards! It's quite an improvement, actually.
EO: Fairly revolting in theory, but in practice a harmless pop song with guitars. Actually, the guitars are good, I like the crispness and density of the riff and rhythm - that goes for the vocals too, but the tune doesn't do anything for me. A little bit of Spain in this one, seemingly, but I'd suggest the wrong bit of Spain on this occasion (i.e. the ones that listen to indie rock), even if it does improve on subsequent listens. A very strange kind of earworm indeed, though.
DV: Is the Mellotron sound in the non-chorus supossed to give the track a Nigel Godrich-ish, Coldplay-ish sound? I hope that's not the reason why this lumpen track is at Number 1.
IM: Bizarrely enough, this reminds me very strongly of some of the little Quebecois rock I’ve had a chance to hear – similarly lush and fairly detailed production, similar odd touches like the brief funk bass, similarly strong pop-rockin’ chorus, and I can’t understand a damn word in either.
BL: Since I know nothing about The Russian Pop, it would seem that I could approach this task without any preconceptions. And that was true here – for 30 entire seconds, after which I got a definite mental picture of what the singer is like. Namely, with fly-swatter hair that he swings around while in the impassioned throes of performing this song, perhaps?
MT: It begins in the worst possible way: some abysmal guitar lines that bring to my mind thoughts like "destroy all fenders" or "never send a sessionist to do a man's job". And just when you were thinking things couldn't get
much worse... suprise! A brief but still quite shameful BASS SOLO. Yes, I've just written the word "bass" followed by "solo".
EO: The bass solo is probably not a good idea, but it's not quite Red Hot Chili Peppers-bad now.
BL: This is like a second-rate Rasmus song, and Rasmus isn’t that rated by me to begin with. The chiming keyboards are sort of nice when they’re loud enough, which is exactly one time. Bratia can certainly roll his Rs, though, so he has that going for him.
MT: I'm gonna make someone pay for this.

2. A'STUDIO - Uletaju
EO: 4, IM: 5, BL: 3, SN: 4, MT: 4, DV: 8. Adjusted score: 5

DV: This is kind of like a post-Evanescence goth rock song (cleverly) patent leathered as a cheesy ballad, metal power chords brought to the back, added "na na nas", etc. And better than it sounds.
SN: Na na na na na na…I didn't realise Russian was so easy! Oh wait, there we go. Now that I've found out Russian is more complex than I had originally given it for, I'm not sure what this girl is singing about, but I imagine it's about "going under" or hate in some way, shape or form. Blah.
MT: In typical "slow, romantic song" fashion, the verses are quite weak; unnecessary steps we have to follow till we get to the chorus, which, yes meets the ISO standard of profficency for euro singles, though it doesn't exactly aim for the skies.
BL: Simultaneously desperate and half-hearted. On the one hand, it works really, really hard to please, like some demented aural equivalent of Sally Field, throwing everything but the kitchen-sink at you. But because there are so many tricks and bits in it, it all ends up sounding a little disjointed and uncommitted
IM: The bit where the backing briefly shudders is great – it needs to happen more often. The female vocalist is really giving it her all, but she’s saddled with what sounds like a pretty standard ballad. The percussion is neat, and the singer really sells it, but this is a little lackluster.
EO: The way the singer bellows out the title - that's some good stick. But it's just a little without hooks.
MT: It's also propelled by a late 90's, nu-metal sounding electric guitar that reminds me of Triple X, but I'm still undecided wether that's a good or a bad thing.
JP: This only proves that warbly girl ballads are just as rubbish in Russia as everywhere else.
BL: The singer has a close brush with, but never fully submits to the vocoder; there are some quieter vocal bits on the verses (the best parts), but lots of tormented shouting; and then there are those na-na-na-na-nas that sound like they might have been grafted on from some other, not necessarily better, song. Exhausting. Listening to this is a bit of a work-out, in a slightly smelly gym.

3. DMITRIY MALIKOV - S Chistogo Lista
EO: 7, IM: 5, BL: 5, SN: 6, MT: 6, DV: 9. Adjusted score: 7

BL: This guy is much more googleable (kudos), and I’m glad he is. From one website I learn that Dmitriy once commemorated his mid-career crisis thusly: “he cut off his trademark long hair, and then appeared with a bottle of whiskey, smoking a cigarette and wearing nothing but underwear in his new video.” As someone for whom that sequence of events is simply called “Thursdays,” I am charmed by how easily scandalized the Russians supposedly are. This song isn’t terrible, but it would be improved if it too appeared next to a bottle of whiskey. The bassline needs to gallop more, while that keyboard riff might at any moment get repossessed by an 80s techno act. But at least Dmitriy sings quite nicely and mostly devoid of the kind of desperation that the vocalists charting above him evince.
DV: The Abba-esque intro is designed to make europop fans smile with recognition. Then it gets better –and has an arresting key change. Is it just the margaritas, or does the singer sound a little like Neil Tennant? Gorgeous.
EO: The best intro of any song on the chart by some distance, and disappointingly muted aside from those fabulous few seconds, though they are least repeated a few times. Perhaps some degree less than the sum of its parts.
SN: Starts off rather excitingly, like a piece of potassium dropped in water, what with those sonic flashes and uber-distorted synths all over the place. However, you can only watch potassium in water for so long before it fizzles out and you start looking around for a Bunsen burner to play with.
IM: Did he just mention Putin? A nice slice of faintly trance-y dancepop, the backing is a bit pro forma (i.e. I feel like I’ve heard it dozens of times before) but the vocals are nice. The thought of political content remains intriguing.

4. CHAY VDVOEM - Ti Ne Odna On Ne Odin
EO: 6, IM: 7, BL: 6, SN: 7, MT: 3, DV: 5. Adjusted score: 6

IM: The bassline reminds me of most of the anime soundtrack music I’ve heard, and the singer briefly sounds, at the start of the track, like it might be Gruff Rhys, but this is mostly just straightforward catchy, danceable pop. Just because I don’t have much to say about it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, though.
MT: A nifty synth line (is it me or everyone seems to be writing the music one would like Vince Clarke to be doing?) plus some nice use of vocoder. You can't go wrong with a vocoder if you believe in it.
EO: The previous song had an Abba-esque intro, and this one sounds like Erasure, who did an EP cal... oh you know how these circular reference things end. Compared to Dmitriy, this does more with more modest melodic and backing elements, but they're really very modest indeed.
JP: This is quite Eurovision-esque, although more like the old-style cheesy boyband Eurovision entries than the new all-singing, all-dancing, all-brace-pinging diva types.
BL: The clipped strummy guitars at the start led me, for just a split second, to entertain fantasies that this would turn into a Russian Basement Jaxx track. Instead, there’s a tinkly piano bit and then it’s more like Gazebo. That’s not a bad thing, but the Bingo-Bango-I-Love-Chopin! hybrid would have been great, wouldn’t it?
SN: Jesus, more vaguely Latino stuff that Ricky Martin was peddling 500 years ago. Granted, this has a deliciously melancholic piano line that imbues the whole thing with a strangely inappropriate sadness that Senor Martin and his leather pants could only dream of conjuring up, so I'll go easy on it just this one.
MT: All these songs sound really cool the first time because there's something that stands out in all of them. This one got me with the nice little keyboard line that opens the song, though the sad truth is that the rest of the song doesn't live up to that promise. I'm sure they/he meant well, but the road to Pitchfork is paved with good intentions.
BL: This is perfectly serviceable and nice, though not, I suspect, something I’ll necessarily remember six months down the road. But the hits get better as the numbers get, um, bigger, don’t they? Let’s see what’s next.

5. FRISKE ZHANNA - Gde-to Leto
EO: 8, IM: 5, BL: 7, SN: 8, MT: 9, DV: 5. Adjusted score: 8

MT: Some day, someone should write about the influence of "La Isla Bonita" in modern music. This one doesn't sound that similar, but it certainly FEELS like it.
SN: I really wanted to dislike this one. Sub-par early Ace of Base-esque production values, chord progressions that have been around since J.S. Bach started fiddling around on his well-tempered clavier...but then along comes the brilliant call-and-response chorus and it turns out that even I, with my eternal crankiness, have to smile.
EO: I earlier described this as a bit of unchallenging Europop, but it's really not. It's actually very pretty, albeit dressed up in some fine, tarty going-out clothes. But at the same time, a little bit doomed!
MT: It would be really hard for me to resist this song's many appeals (not that I tried too hard) because it pretty much sums up a lot of the things I like about europop: the synths, the sense of drama, the huge build up which end up leading to choruses of a fifty storey high melancholy, it's all here.
BL: This flirts with being crap, but pulls it out of the fire. Like the #3 song, this has a “catchy” keyboard thingy that’s kind of Kon Kan-like, but it’s bouncy and seemingly more self-aware of its cheese content. My total inability to speak Russian doesn’t prevent me from knowing that this is a lyrical ode to the star of My So-Called Life. Too few pop songs are, really. You can also imagine Friske doing some sort of elaborate finger dance to this, which is always a plus.
DV: What a waste of a fabolous intro! And not about Jared Leto, sadly.
MT: And I also found this very engaging because it sounds like "cumbia", but not the kind Michelangelo Matos plugged here, no, no, no, no. There's another, better kind of cumbia, often disdainfully qualified as "romántica", which sounds like a primitive (and maybe cheap) spiritual twin of this kind of single, melancholic but danceable and certainly the closest thing we ever had to true non imported pop down here in Argentina. I was going to write a lot more but I really should get myself my own blog instead of stealing Edward's space (Please do both - EO). I'd better just say I loved it and just leave it at that.

6. GLYUKOZA - Yura
EO: 4, IM: 2, BL: 7, SN: 9, MT: 8, DV: 10. Adjusted score: 7

MT: I'm a sucker for spy movie/surf guitars, and this sounds like surf from the pre-Xenomania days, it even has that "underwater" feeling and the lovely kitsch atmosphere of Dick Dale's recordings. Plus, I bet Diego's gonna love this because it sounds a lot like Las Ketchup and he's always been a huge fan of the gals.
EO: I thought I hated this at first, then I realised it sounded a bit like the original Moonbaby version of Lene/Girls Aloud's "Here We Go" in that spy-movie-cum-teen-pop style, and it all started to make a little bit more sense. A sadly quite weak chorus drags it down.
DV: What the hell is this? This is kind of like a Buggles song as played by Siberian rockabilly nomads. With strapped Casios. I love it to death even though I suspect that the day I actually see what those Glyukoza guys do look like I'll probably feel funny. (After a Google search) Damn. Is that a girl?
EO: Yes, it's a girl. A fit girl, at that.
BL: The singer sounds like she was asked to do her vocal from the other room, perhaps while wearing scuba gear. Which is strange – well, for many reasons, but not least because she really has no need to keep her distance from this song. It’s quite good, even if the production is a bit dodgy.
IM: Gah, the vocals are so nasal - they just completely ruin anything good about the track. The backing would need to be awesome to compensate for Ms. Pinched Nose, and it’s not.
JP: Not just rubbish but really weird too. Sounds almost like yodellin
SN: Yet another song to add to my "this is brilliant thanks in no small part to the surf guitar but I'd die of embarrassment if anyone ever caught me listening to it because it's really rather tacky isn't it" list. Possibly the best thing the B52s never did.
BL: If you write an English lyric for this, and scribble a note saying “hey man KEEP the surfesque guitars, but make them more TWANGY and WITH WOOSHES. Also: DOPER beats,” you would be a bit of a tool, but you could then send this to Xenomania and have them turn this into track 7 of the next Girls Aloud album. And it might be slightly awesome. I therefore have to give this marks for potential.
IM: Given the uniform strength of the rest of this top ten, “Yura” is a surprise and a disappointment. Is there a novelty factor we don’t get or something?

8. ZHASMIN - Indijskoje Disko
EO: 9, IM: 8, BL: 1, SN: 8, MT: 8, DV: 6. Adjusted score: 7

IM: Tell me the title translates as “Indie Disco“. Because it should.
DV: I assume we all thought this meant "Indie Disco" and wished it was a russian take on The Killers but done with a lovely unpretentiousness that prompted us to say "oooh, this is what I wish The Killers were doing more often". It is not. So I put a Melody Club record instead.
EO: The title actually translates as Indian Disco. But "bizarre, incongruously-sampling shuddering but delightful disco" would also have worked, to my mind.
MT: Completely self-aware of being a disco song, and pretty much enjoying it and showing enough aplomb to pull the trick out, kinda reminds me of Light Years-era Kylie (which, by the way, is the kind of album one could think
of as a shelter from the "macho-isation of disco")
SN: Question: why try and shoehorn an already-overused Indian sample into a song that is about as Indian as you might expect a Russian disco song to be (that is, Not Very) and stands well enough on its own anyway?
BL: This is a delightful hodgepodge of different cultures and sounds, except for the “delightful” part.
JP: Sounds like a very low rate Russian version of Kylie. Their Lisa Scott-Lee, perhaps!
BL: How is it possible that the way Zhasmin sings the first few lines makes me think that she is doing a naff technopop number in Chinese? Who is Jimmy, and why does he desire the pickled Indian relish known as achar? Even the breakdown at the 2:08 mark, when the guitar-sitar from the start returns, and people shout stuff in the background, cannot quite overcome the insipid beat and monotonously repetitive, monotonously repetitive, monotonously repetitive melody.
SN: Points off for Cruelty To Samples, but it's still quite good.

9. IRAKLIJ - Kaplia Absenta
EO: 9, IM: 7, BL: 9, SN: 5, MT: 3, DV: 5. Adjusted score: 7

EO: If it doesn't quite deliver on being an out-and-out club stormer (even in the punchier remix), or a perfectly felt disco moment of pensive insight, it does quite well enough at being an uneasy mix of both, although it does strike me that I would have preferred this sung by the backing vocalists, perhaps. A perfectly fine bit of Russian house-pop that channels enough of the bluer registers to give pause for thought while one dances in one's chair.
IM: Oh, this is niiice – the same sort of smooth housey glide as Juliet’s ”Avalon“, but with even more of the emphasis placed on the pop single side of the charts/dancefloor equation. It’s not quite as good as “Avalon”, but it’s not too far off in quality either.
MT: A guitar line ripped off from "Music sounds better with you" (which is probably ripped off from some other place I don't know), average chorus, a singer sounding like he doesn't care that much about the song, and if even he doesn't care, then why should I do it?
BL: This has a filtered house beat, and even a Stardusty wah-wah type guitar sound; ergo, it instantly seems brilliant. (It reminds me a teensy bit of that fab Dimension X track that inaugurated this very blog.) The loopy nature of that groove makes the record sound melancholic and hypnotic; there is a very drowning-sorrows-lost-in-music-but-also-trying-to-break-free feel about it.
EO: Filter-house is often so euphoric and infectious that the ability to affect emotions in the other direction hasn't been fully explored yet - but this song (along with the aforementioned Dimension X) fills that void somewhat. Excellent.
SN: For a country that brought the world t.A.T.u. and the blonde one from Captain Planet, I expected something with a bit more grunt.
JP: Is this guy actually singing in his sleep?

10. SMASH!! - Mechta
EO: 8, IM: 6, BL: 8, SN: 10, MT: 0, DV: 7. Adjusted score: 7
SN: Much like Girls Aloud's "Wake Me Up" (which bludgeons the same four bars into your brain throughout verse, middle eight and chorus), or Ciara's "Oh" (which, harmony-wise, is effectively conflict, resolution, conflict, resolution ad infinitum), this song highlights the effectiveness of looping a really good idea, in this case the wistful guitar motif. It drives the song forward, refusing to let you go, dragging you in and down, until you're as tortured as the presumably tortured vocalist and just want the hurt to end. Absolutely brilliant, and I'm going to put it on again.
IM: I wasn’t expecting a song by SMASH!! To start with an acoustic guitar, but sure enough this is a ballad, although it does also have a backbeat. The chorus is the best part by a big margin – the guy’s voice sounds better multiplied and it’s got a pretty good melody. The guitar always sounds like it’s winding down, which adds to the melancholy feel.
BL: The melody of the chorus, which is basically sung to the tune of the plucked riff, gets a little repetitive; but the double-tracked vocals and the way they vary and go up a notch when they sing the last line of the chorus the first time, helps to counter that.
JP: Considering this band have 2 exclamation marks in their name, you might expect them to be at least a tiny bit exciting. Maybe they're being ironic?
MT: I can't help hating anything that reminds me of bossa nova.
EO: Thoughts on listen one: well, it's a bit simpering, but it seems heartfelt enough, and the earnestness does have an uncanny way of drilling into the brain at inappropriate moments and the overall effect is that what seems timid and weak is actually affecting and effective if not exactly exciting and as a result it kind of works.
BL: Those guitar pluckings are very Balearic; if you extract and stick them onto a record with more synth lines that everyone always describes as “washing” over a record, then Afterlife would be very happy to have the track. (Yes, all I do is pick out the good bits from songs and imagine what they might be like in someone else’s songs. Hi, I’m Puff Daddy.)
EO: Five listens later, I actually kind of really like this.
BL: in a chart that’s a little too full of (or at least began with) songs that are too sledgehammery, this seems lovely in a subtler way. Which is funny, given that it’s made by a band whose name has two too many exclamation points. But there you go.

The total score for Russia is 57, which seems low given how much quality was on offer, but such tends to happen when nobody can agree on what the quality actually is and there isn't a clear-across-the-board winner. Oh well, I thought it was good, anyway. Surely that counts for something.

The highest scoring song is Gde-to Leto but I posted that a couple of weeks ago. So, what came 2nd and 3rd? Why, that would be an exact tie between Glyukoza and Zhasmin. So we'll have both, then.

Glyukoza - Yura
Zhasmin - Indijskoje Disko

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Prelude to the Russian Top 10

Well, a Russian Top 10 anyway. I was told that basically they pull it out of their (collective) arse anyway, and this just happens to be the one I use. The following YSI link will give you a lowish but listenable quality file containing 30 second snippets from the nine songs in the top 10 that aren't by the Blackeyedgoddamnpeas. To give you something to read while you read the Cross Europe Chart Challenge of Death Panel's expert appraisals when they go up tomorrow. You'll get one of them in full, as is tradition.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

So, how would you like some Ukrainian rap?

It might be quite good you know, because Ni, ja ne tu kohav by Tartak and Svitiaz is not bad at all.

The video is apparently here, but I haven't looked at it yet - one must sign up for something or other. What I have considered is the MP3, which is here, and very good it is too. Being no expert on rap in general or any specific issues as far as flow goes when in the Ukrainian language, I come to this with no expectations and still leave on the fence as to whether the delivery is any good. Yet, the whole affair gets the benefit of the doubt, and a thumbs up, on two criteria:

Firstly, the chorus is rather singalong catchy if you can get your mouth around the syllables, which I can't. Secondly, the production is rapid-fire, guitars like machine guns and an absolutely sublime section at about 2:40 in wherein whoever is responsible has just decided to throw absolutely every effect they had been working on around the time of production in, a piano tinkle, a cheesy electric guitar, and oh, that chorus again.

Life changing? Hardly. Infectious? Well, if it were only intelligible, but it's hugely enjoyable. I like it quite a lot, in keeping with my current fixation towards Eastern Europe which for the moment seems completely justified.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I've been a bad blogger, yes. Kudos to Mind Taker for keeping things vaguely going around this "joint". I've been intermittently sick, busy and uninspired, but that should change! Russian top 10 being examined soon, I found the song I had been missing, so ballots are out and it shall be done.

Shall I post some MP3s? Yes, I think I shall.

One of my favoured delights from last year was Mirage (La Luna) by Paps'n'Skar, a maddeningly catchy little number that reminded me of a less manic Junior Senior. They have a newer song that is basically the exact same thing and absolutely no worse for it. I know a lot of people liked it too, so let's have round two. Oh, it's got some differences - it has a lovely tinkly piano bit in the middle that's all a bit incongruous and some quite charming plonky acoustic guitar, but the beat may as well be the same, the same keyboard settings are retained and if there's a purpose above making something to make me stupidly happy, it's not apparent. Fortunately, this is more than sufficient.

Paps'n'Skar - Vieni Con Me

I was reminded of how quite good M2M where by Abby recently, and you should probably remember too. What you may not know is that Marion Raven, the younger one (I think) has a single doing the business around the world at the moment. She's gone a bit Avril Lavigne on us, and it's not bad at all. It's Top 10 in Norway and apparently doing quite well in a few other places. There's some genuine feedback in it and her yowling and yelping is highly endearing, as far as this kind of mall-punk-pop goes. She can sing rather well, actually.

Marion Raven - Break You

Monday, July 25, 2005

A bumper YSI bag of Croatian pop!

Svadbas - Treblebass

Since I associate Svadbas with moody post-trip-hop/post-rock/post-whatever dirge, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only they've put out a single that sounds like nothing else they did so far, but is also probably my favourite Croatian single of the year so far! "Treblebass" is a bit like Girls Aloud - less brash maybe, but just as playful and trigger happy in its pick'n'mix pop assault: a flamenco guitar here, slightly surf-y guitar there, and a Russian-flavoured singalong chorus. It is completely ace, and I urge everyone to hear it!

Colonia - Time

Colonia - Padaju domine

The mighty Colonia only gets better with time, and their new album "Najbolje od svega" is typically awesome: an almost non-stop tapestry of top tunes, masterfully produced and all over the place genre-wise. So I couldn't resist sharing a few gems with y'all. "Time" is their first song originally written in English (last year they did an English version of their monster hit "Za tvoje snene oci" - which in literal translation means "For Your Dreamy Eyes", but in the international-market version became "A Little Bit of Uh La La" so I, uh, didn't bother tracking it down); it's very Swedish sounding. Also, very very good! "Padaju domine" continues Colonia's tradition of schaffel tunes, and it's the finest piece of Colonia-schaffel so far: imperious, tightly muscular and deeply melancholic, high on windswept melodrama... simply, glorious.