Melodifestivalen 2015 #3

Even though I’m no longer part of the culture of “Friday Afternoon Work Drinks”, I do remember this stage of my life very well. You would go to the pub, talk about work, and then, as the drinks kicked in, you would turn to other topics, and before you knew it, you were in a dodgy karaoke bar singing “Dancing Queen”. Through your “beer ears” you thought you sounded okay, when it fact you sounded pretty awful. And what happened to remind you of this was the appearance on stage of your workmate (who had ditched his tie and jacket) and who suddenly revealed to everyone he had a really great singing voice.

That guy was a contestant in the third heat of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish competition which selects a contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest, and his name was Andreas Weise. When he appeared on stage, I thought he would be another boring old male blonde Swede who would sing something of little consequence, only to be forgotten about minutes later. In fact, his performance was one of the best in this heat.

Along the way there were other tracks such as “Insomnia” by Ellen Benediktson (good, though probably a little too similar to Loreen’s “Euphoria”); “För din skull” (For your sake) by Kalle Johansson (boring); “Living To Die” by Andreas Johnson (the songs title says it all, it’s time for Andreas Johnson to move on); “Don’t Stop” by Isa Tengblad (boring in my view, but popular with the tweens); and “I See You” by Kristin Amparo (gorgeous voice, though I can’t remember the song only half an hour after having watched it).

But my favourite of the heat was “Jag är fri (Manne Liem Frije)” (I am free) by Jon Henrik Fjällgren. He won Sweden’s got talent last year with a song about a friend who died. Though originally from Colombia, he’s part of the Sami community and works by day, seriously, herding reindeer. The song he sang was “rousing” and “catchy” and sung in “Joik” which is a traditional Sami form of song. A big call to make at this stage, since there’s still a further heat to go, and then “Andra Chansen” before the final, but I think he has a really good chance of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Unfortunately the video of his performance isn’t available online yet, but here’s the video from when he won Sweden’s Got Talent.

Melodifestivalen 2015 #2

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. To be precise, Magnus who was in Swedish pop bands Barbados and Alcazar, not Magnus Carlson (one “s”) who was in Swedish indie band, “Weeping Willows”. I even met him once, briefly, at a bar in Stockholm (see photo below). Although his obsession with recording Christmas albums is something I still don’t understand (beyond the fact they sell well), he can be relied upon for really great pop tunes. His self-titled solo album remains a firm favourite. Along the way, he has released songs in both English and Swedish, and has competed in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision on several occasions. Thus, when I heard the news a few months ago he would be competing again this year, I was pretty excited.

His song this year, “Möt Mig I Gamla Stan” (Meet me in the old town (part of Stockholm)” is “classic” Magnus Carlsson, and although I like it, and it has made it through to the final, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a bit “old school” to make it through to Eurovision. Over the last decade, with one or two exceptions, the Swedes have tended to vote for younger, more contemporary sounding singers and songs than the classic “key change schlager” songs they’ve been known for many year.

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm
Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Aside from Magnus, there were two other songs which stood out for me this week for completely different reasons. Even though they were a bit off tune in their performance, and there’s nothing much to the tune, I thought “Groupie” by Samir and Viktor is a bit of fun, with a lyric that declares the end of the “selfie”. Totally forgettable, of course, but they had a good energy, even if the song was pretty rubbish and they couldn’t really sing. I also really liked “Forever Starts Today” by Linus Svenning, who competed in last year’s contest with “Bröder” also. It’s one of those rousing Eurovision sing-a-long numbers with a killer hook. Linus is a young guy with tats who, in Australia, probably wouldn’t be caught dead competing in a Eurovision pop song contest, but who in Sweden is totally at home.

Other competitors this week were: Emelie Irewald with “Där Och Då Med Dig” (a nice enough ballad); Neverstore with “If I Was God For One Day” (a fairly dated sounding 80/90s power ballad); Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen with “Nonetheless” (a pretty song with lovely harmonies); and Mariette with “Don’t Stop Believing” (pretty good song, powerful, and with a slight Tory Amos feel to it).

Musical Favourites for 2013 – The Year of Oskar Linnros

As I’ve sat down to look at the most commonly played tracks for the year, I’m kinda surprised it’s the song “Plåster” by Oskar Linnros. Not that I dislike the song, but I kind of imagined there were other songs I’d played more often the year.

That said, I’m using last.fm as my guide, and while it’s pretty good at picking up the music I’ve scrobbled, it’s not an entirely accurate guide to my listening preferences for the year.

That qualifier aside, these were the Top 4 songs I listened to in 2013.

1. Oskar Linnros – Plåster

2. Agnetha Fältskog – Dance Your Pain Away

3. Oskar Linnros – Hur dom än

4. Oskar Linnros – Det är inte synd om dig

For me, the real musical discovery of the year was Jonas Holmberg.

I wrote a blog post about him in August, saying…

After a couple of listens, I bought his two albums of Swedish language versions of jazz and pop classics, and they have been barely off my music player over the last two weeks. I’m listening again tonight. He has a beautifully clear voice and diction (good for improving my Swedish), sings with passion, and is backed by some wonderful instrumentation. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, his two albums are really very, very listenable. I’ve recommended him to my friend Grant (also a Swedophile) who was mightily impressed. From what I can see, Jonas performs semi-regularly around Stockholm, and occasionally has appeared on Swedish television. Hopefully the next time I visit Sweden, he’ll be performing somewhere, as I’d love to hear him perform live, and not only on recordings.

If I’d discovered Jonas before August, I’d guess this would have not been the year of Oskar Linnros after all.

Another great “discovery” this year was Carmen McRae’s version of Sounds Of Silence. Not a new song, or a new version, but I heard it for the first time in an ABC Shop, and it quickly became a firm favourite.

For pure sentimental value, this was another favourite from 2013.

Jonas Holmberg

Just because I have the complete recordings of ABBA in my record collection, it doesn’t mean I stopped listening to new music in 1982. But that’s what online music stores often presume.

I have stored most of my music collection on Google Music, and I’ve also bought a fair few albums via the Play Store. But because there’s a large number of ABBA recordings stored there, it seems like the only recommendations I get are for The Carpenters, Billy Joel and the like. As my tastes in music are much, much broader, it frustrates me the algorythm (or whatever it is) assumes I would only want to purchase similar music.

But of course, I’m not “normal” in that sense. For many people it seems like music is like a haircut: at about the age of eighteen to twenty five they settle on what they like, and stick with it for life. Although genetics have forced me to compromise on the issue of haircuts, I continue to listen to new and varied styles of music. For example, I really like a lot of hip-hop, which separates me from many people my age.

Occasionally, though, the Play Store manages to get it right, and recommends something I really like. Thus, I have a new Swedish musical obsession. His name is Jonas Holmberg. He was one of those “Recommended Artists” in the Play Store, and so I decided, on spec, I would have a listen.

After a couple of listens, I bought his two albums of Swedish language versions of jazz and pop classics, and they have been barely off my music player over the last two weeks. I’m listening again tonight.

He has a beautifully clear voice and diction (good for improving my Swedish), sings with passion, and is backed by some wonderful instrumentation. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, his two albums are really very, very listenable.

I’ve recommended him to my friend Grant (also a Swedophile) who was mightily impressed.

From what I can see, Jonas performs semi-regularly around Stockholm, and occasionally has appeared on Swedish television. Hopefully the next time I visit Sweden, he’ll be performing somewhere, as I’d love to hear him perform live, and not only on recordings.

You can listen to some samples of his work on his website.

My favourite is the track, “Allting börjar om”.

Vapen och ammunition

I’ve spent the night listening to the wonderful album, “Vapen och ammunition” by the Swedish pop/rock band, Kent. Given the news events of the last few days, it’s interesting that “Vapen och ammunition” translates as “Weapons and ammunition”. Perhaps subconsciously, it was an album that I was drawn to because of the title, though more likely, it’s simply because it’s a good album which I like very much, and which has become a firm favourite over the last decade.

I first discovered it through my friend Yvette who spent six months living in Sweden about a decade ago. It was one of the albums she bought while living there, and sang along to in “Swenglish”, finding the most approximate English language lyric that matched the Swedish. “I rack my dog, I rack my bone” was her English language equivalent to “Vi räknar dagar, räknar år”. “We’re counting days, we’re counting years” is the actual translation, though I still often sing, “I rack my dog, I rack my bone”.

When she came back from Sweden, she played the CD and loaned it to me. After a couple of months she asked, “Do you think I could back that Kent CD?”. Yes, I’d hung on to it a little longer than was polite, because I was enjoying it far too much, with its catchy melodies, good instrumentation, and cryptic Swedish lyrics. And, as I later discovered, thanks to Youtube, some really terrific video clips.

Perhaps the most interesting clip from this album, and certainly the most controversial is the song “Kärleken väntar” (“Love Waits”). The clip features a teenage couple who decide they should have sex for the first time. As you watch the clip, you see them fumble their way through the experience, revealing their inexperience in a tender, but also slightly humorous way. I’m still not entirely sure what the lyric is saying about how “Love Waits”, as it’s a phrase commonly associated with a conservative Christian campaign which occurred in the United States during the 80s and 90s.

It seems to me the lyrics from Kent songs are often a little obscure. Sometimes they’re perhaps a little too poetic for my basic understanding of Swedish. The opening line from the song “Dom Andra” (The Others) always touches me, though… “En ensam kvinna söker en man” which translates as “A lonely woman seeks a man”… wow.

But as was noted by my friend, Yvette, you can hear pretty much anything in a Kent song. And I do love this misheard lyric video clip compiled a few years ago.

Although I’ve listened to quite a few subsequent albums by Kent, it’s this one which still resonates for me. I think this was when they were at their musical peak.

In some ways, Kent are Sweden’s answer to U2. They’ve been around since the dark ages, and have gone through various transitions. Sometimes they’ve been cool, other times they’ve been considered quite daggy. A couple of years ago, for example, when my friend Damien’s friend, Joel had a Swedish boyfriend, Damien informed me that Kent were “very unfashionable”. Meh.

80s Music Doco

80s on SVTPLAY.SE
80s on SVTPLAY.SE

“Oh my God, you MUST watch it”, I told a colleague earlier this week. She grew up in Sweden and is a major fan of Depeche Mode. I was talking about the first episode of “80s”, a new half-hour music documentary from Swedish TV, SVT. The first episode featured a very early Swedish television performance from the band, during which a rather nervous Dave Gahan stumbled his way through an interview, and even seemed somewhat surprised when the presenter spoke to him in English. The essential argument of the first program was that the 80s began as a battle between synthesiser-pop and hard-rock, and that, in some ways, Depeche Mode embodied elements of both.

Tonight, I watched the second episode. Tonight’s program was about Kim Wilde, as the embodiment of the pop princess (who later became more interested in gardening, having dogs, and raising children) and about the rise of the video clip through MTV. There were some terrific modern-day interviews (in English) with some MTV VJs, as well as Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, Limahl, Midge Ure and others. One of the VJ’s commented they had to travel New Jersey for the launch, as it was the early days of cable. Midge Ure talks about their “accidental” approach to the making of the “Vienna” clip. One of the guys from Spandau Ballet talks about how unfashionably dressed Americans were before MTV exposed them to European fashion. It’s been interesting to watch the last two episodes and to see these performers reflect back on their “time in the sun” thirty years ago.

Oh, and I’ve suddenly liaised I’ve been singing the wrong words to Toto’s “Africa” for thirty years. I’ve realised it’s “I bless the rains down in Africa” not “I guess the rain’s down in Africa” as I’ve always thought it was.

Although there’s a lot of Swedish commentary throughout the program, there’s more than enough English for non-Swedes to also enjoy the program. So if you’re of a certain age, or you just like 80s pop, I’d recommend watching the program.

http://www.svtplay.se/eighties

Slightly Obsessed

Ola at Schlager Night at Stockholm Pride 2008

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about my slight obsession with Swedish pop star, Ola.

I first discovered his work when he was an entrant in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading to the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2008. I thought the song, Love in Stereo was “okay”. A few months later I saw him perform live at Stockholm Pride and, again, I thought he was “okay”. He went from being “okay” to pretty fantastic when, two years later, he entered Melodifestivalen with the song “Unstoppable (The Return Of Natalie)” which was one of my favourite songs that year. It’s so incredibly catchy, and he performed it with such great enthusiasm.

\

In the last twelve months I’ve also become quite a fan of his song, “All Over The World” which I think has a great tune, has fun lyrics, and is well sung.

Oh by the way, there’s a terrific tribute clip made by a Canadian which is very cute.

And then in the last few days, Ola has released via Youtube, his new song, “I’m In Love” which I think has a Gaga-esque quality, and which I’ve had on repeat-peat-peat, repeat-peat-peat-peat for the last few days. A “proper” video will follow soon.

Anyway, I just wanna say that I love the fact that, at 46, and with very broad musical tastes, there’s still time in my life for a good pop song.