The Eurovision Song Contest is a contest held by active members of the European Broadcasting Union. Each year every country submits an entry for the best song, which is performed live through several rounds. The winning country then hosts the contest the following year. Eurovision started in 1956 to try to boost the morale of a war-torn Europe and bring a sense of togetherness. I knew ABBA had been skyrocketed to fame with their win in 1974 for “Waterloo” but I didn’t realize this amazing programme was still taking place! Germany was this year’s winner and it’s not hard to see why:
Lena Meyer-Landrut – known as “Lena” had a knock-out hit with her entry Satellite. I actually got a hold all entries this year (an amazing collection of Europop!) and while I was a big fan of many of the songs, there is no doubt that Satellite blew the competition out of the water. Catchy, cute, bubbly doesn’t even begin to describe it. I played it for my friends and we still find ourselves belting it out at any given moment. The video is not as exciting as other entries (soon to come!) but it’s worth a watch to see the adorable German pop star:
Shortly after her Eurovision success Lena released her first studio album: My Cassette Player. This is a really great album, peaking at number 1 on the German and Austrian charts, and #5 on the European top 100. There is a certain organic quality to it where you can tell she wrote her own songs (at least most of them), and I think her cover of Jason Mraz’ Mr. Curiosity is incredible. Every song is catchy but intelligent and the entire album is actually in English – which seems surprisingly common amongst European artists – although there is something very German about it. I really hope there is more to come from Lena in the future and I highly recommend this album to all!
I am a total “Polska-phile” and when it comes to Polish music, Reni Jusis is at the top of my list. Jusis has had a very interesting career musically speaking, transforming her style from hip-hop, reggae, to electronica, to piano pop. Reni’s career started when she was discovered by Polish rapper/music producer Yaro (the two became a couple), and the pair worked together on her debut album Zakrecona. The album was a mixture of R&B, hip-hop, and funk; and upon its release in 1999 earned Fryderyk Awards for Best Debut Album of the Year, Best Song of the Year, and Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album of the Year. (Jusis is also classically trained, this year she graduated from the Academy of Music in Poznań with a degree in Choir Conducting.)
Reni’s third album Elektrenika (play on words “electronic” and her name) is one of my favourites. It was at this point her style changed to electronica. The songs are very 80’s inspired. The album had two huge hits: Nic o mnie nie wiecie and Nigdy Ciebe nie zapomnę. The previous is one of my most frequently enjoyed foreign pop songs, and it is also my ring-tone and has been for some time! Jusis’ fourth album, Trans Misja (play on words “trance”, “mission”, and “transmission”) was another huge dance hit, winning the Fryderyk Award for Best Dance/Electronic/Club Album in 2003.
In 2006 Reni left her record company and started her own, Ping Pong Records, and released her fifth studio album, Magnes. This album is another great dance album, and also has several of her previous Polish hits in English (I prefer them in Polish!). Magnes won a Fryderyk for Best Dance Album of the Year. Jusis’ newest album Iluzon, is a turn towards piano-pop so I have read, but I have not yet been able to find a copy of the album, and am desperately searching! Elektrenika and Trans Misja remain my favourite albums, though Magnes is also wonderful. I have heard parts of Iluzon on Reni’s website: Reni Jusis and so far have loved it!
Detektivbyrån was Swedish electronica/folk trio from Gothenburg. The trio included Anders Molin on accordion and music box, Martin Molin on glockenspiel, piano, Theremin, and traktofon, and Jon Nils Emanual Ekström on drums, sound-box, and bells. The band has a greatly unique sound, as one might imagine from their unique instrumentation. Their album E18 is an album I listen to frequently. Being Polish, I of course have to play the accordion (somehow I now have 7!) and so the use of accordion is a big turn-on for my musical senses. But the other instruments work so well together. Having a toy piano and Theremin myself, I would love to create music with a sound quality like Detektivbyrån. Their style is very reminiscent of Yann Tiersen, another great accordion-artist, and more specifically his soundtrack to the brilliant French movie Amelie. This is no surprise as the bands use of such instruments was largely inspired by this soundtrack, as well as their musical traditions in Värmland – their home county. Also, the trio played often as street performers, and needed portable instruments.
But despite their more eclectic instruments, their style is somehow very modern, and yet folky at the same time. It is a splendid combination. The music is also very minimalist in terms of its musical repetition, and this creates a very soothing and ethereal effect. I think the sound is distinctly Scandinavian, and something in it is even reminiscent of Björk and has a certain Icelandic vibe. The trio announced in August 2010 that the group would not be making any more music together, and I find this tragic, as they have only two albums and I would have just loved to have experienced more. Detektivbyrån‘s website
Here is their video for Lyckans Undulat
The only way you cannot know ABBA is if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years. ABBA has sold 375 million records worldwide, making them the 4th best-selling artist of all time. I could go on for days about their brilliance, but will save it for another more in-depth post about the royal family of foreign pop…But what you must know is that nearly all of their music videos are the same. Don’t get me wrong, I adore them, and will watch ABBA Gold: the Videos from start to finish, but footage is entirely taken and directly inserted to dozens of their videos. If you don’t believe me, Youtube any two or three ABBA videos, and you’ll see what I mean.
Now when I talk about comedy, I don’t think a duo has ever existed as good as French and Saunders. Not only is the writing simply genius and beyond hilarious, but their parodies are so spot on, you’d think you were watching the real deal, and the breadth of their topics of parody is really astonishing. One aspect of their comedy that I always find to be unparalleled is their parody of film and music videos, so I present for your enjoyment this little treat: ABBA: Knowing Me, Knowing You – and the classic French & Saunders: C’est La Vie.
This semester I had to take German for my music theory major, and Germany has always been a country I’ve known to have good music, but I hadn’t taken the time to hunt any down. But taking German finally pushed me into full drive, and I’m glad it did. One of many, many amazing artists I found was Peter Fox. He is a member of the German reggae/dancehall band Seeed, but his solo album is what caught me. Fox started working on his solo project “Stadtaffe” in 2007, and the album was released in Germany in September 2008. Stadtaffe was co-produced with Monk and DJ Illvibe, and peaked #1 on the charts in Germany and Austria.
The flow of his lyrics are catchy and the beats are great, but one thing I really liked about the album was its use of string orchestra, and in fact the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg from Postdam is featured on much of the album. The opening track, and one of my personal favourites, Alles Neu is driven all the way through by an ostinato by the string orchestra, and they are very present in the second track, Schwarz zu Blau. The video for Alles Neu is fun, featuring a symphony of monkey men, and features the Cold Steel Drumline. It’s pretty epic:
Several of the songs, like Schwarz zu Blau, are about the city of Berlin, it’s seedy underground and political problems, and the hard style is beautifully juxtapose with the down-tempo and lyrical track, Ich Steine, du Steine – a sad song about a relationship that is no good for either party but the man realizes he can’t live without her. This track also has gorgeous, lyrical string accompaniment. The album is also filled with sex, shameless boasting and a general hardcore bad-ass attitude – what more fun could you ask for? A DVD of his tour for the album, Live in Berlin, was released in December 2009 which I can’t wait to get. Check out more Peter Fox!
*Youri Zaragoza – lead-vocals, guitars *Nathan Howard – guitars, vocals *François Lessard – drums, percussion *Jordan Larocque – bass, vocals * Béatrice Martin – keyboards, vocals
One of my favourite CDs I own I found on one of many trips to my favourite city: Montréal. I travel up there several times a year (and will hopefully soon reside there) and it is a tradition for me that any place I travel I search out and buy popular music. Montréal has an active and diverse music scene, and I have gotten many albums and artists there over the years. It was my second trip up, I believe, I stumbled upon Bonjour Brumaire and their debut album De la Nature des Foules. It is now a CD that is never out of my car.
The music on this album is just incredible. While my French is limited, I find the flow of the vocals to be catchy and well crafted – I just imagine it being brilliant. I find many of the endings to the album’s tracks well composed, as instead of fading out or abruptly ending many have a sort of interlude quality where new music is presented or at least taken in a direction you would not expect (i.e. the fadeout or predictable cadence); the endings to Prunelle and Argelès are particularly nice. Their instrumentation is also great, especially the use of more ‘eclectic’ sounds like the organ – in L’insouciance ne s’improvise pas particularly which also has great interaction with the percussion. My absolute favourite song on the album is Argelès – which, again, has amazing percussion throughout, and piano. The song really undergoes many transformations as it progresses, featuring piano and guitar riffs. The instrumental interlude about midway through the song is perfect and the re-entrance of the vocals is powerful as accompanied by the rolling drums. The track’s ending – a haunting organ and piano as the song winds down is also impeccable.
The group is pretty young as it only started work on their debut album De la Nature des Foules in January 2007, working with acclaimed producer Ryan Battistuzzi. The album won several awards, including Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Indie-Pop Album of the Year, and Discovery of the Year at the 2008 Quebec Indie Music Awards, as well as the SODRAC prize for best music for their song “Argelès” at the 2008 Francouvertes contest. It has been one of my favourite CDs since I stumbled upon in Monréal’s HMV. I hope I can catch them in a show sometime while I’m up there! Check out their myspace and give their tracks a listen and their videos a viewing: Bonjour Brumaire