Songcheck 2016: Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland

ESC Song Reviews is happy to reveal the next set of songckecks. The selected songs are coming in faster now, so I can not promise to catch up on it every time there is a song chosen. But all songs will of course get a review eventually. Today let us have a look at the songs from Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Midnight Gold”

Nika Kocharov and his band, Young Georgian Loliatz, were chosen internally by the Georgian national broadcaster, presenting a set of five songs, and after a week of both public and jury voting, the song “Midnight Gold” won.

Musically the song clearly differs a lot from what has otherwise been dominating in Eurovision for may years. We are speaking of a quite experimental and britpop sounding style with many noise elements, especially from the guitar. You may also hear an echo of the 90’s grunge scene. It couldn’t get much further away from the usual Eurovision stuff, and as such it adds to the diversity of the contest in a positive way.

Already the first bars set the tone, consisting only of drums and a slightly distorted bass riff. Before the singing starts, there is a noisy guitar riff which is going against the time signature. The verse is equally minimalistic: the bass riff and the drums are the only instruments except for a creeping guitar feedback in the second half. Plus there is an equally minimalistic melody consisting of only three notes: A, B (*) and C (the main key is A-minor). When the instruments change to F sharp minor in the 5th bar in the verse, the melody creates a very tense dissonance in that the note C is the lower 5th to the bass note F#. It is a so-called ‘tritonus’ interval – in the medieval times this interval was associated with devil, and using it was illegal in some countries!.

After the verse comes a small instrumental part with the counterpointing guitar riff from before, then another verse, now with a small twist: a 4th note is taken out of the 9th bar (“My mind is spinning”). The second instrumental “chorus” leads to a guitar solo that could f.e. have been played by Robert Fripp (front man of the experimental British rock band King Crimson) – it contains unusual intervals as well as a lot of “grim” chromatic (half-note based) and “disharmonic” intervals. Then there is a contrast section with noisy guitar effects and the vocals repeating the lines “Sense of mud on your skin, night will come, so we’ll see”. At last a repeat of the first part of the first verse after which the song ends quite abruptly.

Vocally Nika Kocharov is sounding bit like Damon Albarn. His singing is not really standing out from the other musical elements, but he delivers very competently. Moreover the singing isn’t necessarily the most important part in this kind of music. It often works as an instrument among the other instruments. As for the lyrics, I am not sure if they can live up to the music entirely, but there is clearly a poetic depth present in them, containing a very sense-emphasizing language: “Your smell on me”, “Sound of you breathing, feel of your skin”, or “pain and pleasure”. They can easily be understood as looking back at a sexual meeting, but I believe it is open for other interpretations.

Clearly the song is not trying to sound pleasing. It contains a grim and edgy musical universe with noisy sounds and dissonances, and that itself is very liberating in the context of Eurovision. The song is absolutely not pandering for the listener, and as such it contains artistic integrity. Result-wise I am a bit worried, especially when it comes to the televoting, but I really hope it will do well. It is such a breath of fresh air in the contest. Well done. 9/12

(*) The notion B is used here in the English meaning, namely the note that is one whole note above A. It is called H in Danish and German where B refers to the English B-flat (Bb, a half note above A).

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav je”

A warm welcome back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also welcome back to Deen who represented the country in 2004 with “In the Disco”. It would be fair to say that he has changed a lot since 2004, and whereas “In the Disco” lived up to its name, the 2016 entry “Ljubav je” is a more “classic” Bosnian entry, resembling songs like “Lejla” (2006), “Rijeka bez imena” (2007), “Bistra voda” (2009) or “Love in Rewind” (2011). The song is in Bosnian, and hopefully it will also stay in that language.

The song contains an instrumental riff, played on an electric cello, which resembles a riff from the 2007 song, and melodically we are clearly in a stylistically similar area. F.e. you will notice a strong emphasis on the notes on the V and the lower VI steps, f.e. in the chorus. There’s an oriental flavour to it, especially in the intro, partly because of the lack of harmonies there.

The intro and first verse are quite interesting: there is a drum with a lot of reverb in the background, and there are no chord instruments. As the first chorus starts, the instrumentation becomes more like a standard rock song with a heavy drum beat, and some of the charm disappears at that point. The playing of the rhythm instruments is a bit boring, and I am not sure if it really fits the mood of the melody. Also the performance of the cello riff lacks some dynamics, and there is almost something aggressive about it. As a result the music seems a bit cold, and it doesn’t really convey the emotions carried in f.e. “Rijeka bez imena” or in the other similar Bosnian entries.

Another minus is the rap part which seems a bit irrelevant. In the Bosnian 1999 song “Putnici” the rap was an integrated part of the song, and it fit the mood and the production much better. Here it more or less sounds as if it is added to the song just for the sake of having rap in it.

Dalal and Deen are performing the song very competently from a technical point of view, and it is clear that the latter has improved a lot vocally since 2004. However I think they could have done something more interesting with the song, f.e. in terms of phrasing and dynamics. Their performance seems a bit flat and uninspired.

Reading an English translation of the lyrics, it seems like a banal love song for most of the part, with some rather bombastic and in-your-face lines such as “I need your body”, “I swear to love” or “But now I am drunk again because the devil gives me no peace”. However, I am of course aware that some linguistic layers may get lost in the transformation from one language to another, but since I don’t speak the language, I can’t judge the original Bosnian lyrics.

In any case, the local melodic elements of the song make it seem honest, and since there haven’t been so many ethnic songs yet, it is a welcome contribution the diversity of the contest. With some more emphasis on the details, f.e. dynamics, it could become more interesting. Still, the style has been heard before in Eurovision – and better. 6/12

Iceland: Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”

2016 is shaping up to be the year of returning artists as we welcome back yet another singer: Greta Salóme has previously represented Iceland in 2012 together with Jónsi and the musical-like rock ballad “Never Forget”. This time she performs as a solo artist, and her song “Hear Them Calling” differs quite a lot from her previous entry. It contains elements of a style that has been relatively common in the most recent contests; for instance you may hear an echo of “Only Teardrops” now and then. An example is the mostly pentatone melodies in the chorus – most striking in the line “Now we are coming home” – and so is the percussion elements.

Unfortunately, the melody is often lacking direction, f.e. in the way it ends the chorus with the final “home”. The problem here is 1) the melody in the chorus ends at the same note as it begins, where it leads to a downwards movement in the title phrase, 2) the notes immediately before “home” (“we are coming…”) are pointing in another direction by going down and 3) the final note is the V step from the main key, and as such it is suggesting the melody to continue – it would have sounded more like an ending if it had ended at the base note D (“coming home” so to speak). It is not the best way to end a phrase. It also means that the form can be a little difficult to grasp, simply because the different parts of the song come across as somewhat unfinished. You will have to hear it many times to remember how it goes. (A similar problem was also present in the Serbian 2013 song “Ljubav je svuda”, f.e. in the way the bridge before the chorus ended).

However, the song has got some formal direction overall thanks to the instrumental and chorus-based “tutti” parts that comes after the first and the second chorus. They mark a dynamic peak of the song, and they are actually the best working parts of the song, especially because of the percussion elements pulling a lot of energy in to the music. Also, the final chorus works better than the other ones partly because of a harmonizing backing vocal.

Greta Salóme is singing the song competently without doing anything special with it, but then she is suggesting that the song isn’t necessarily so much about the vocal performance. Still, a little more energy would have been welcome here. As for the lyrics, they are probably referring to a nightmare where the protagonist is trying to escape from some dangerous figures (“them”). It is not specified who “they” are, only that we see their shadows. But there is nothing creepy about the music, so it is hard to find a connection between music and lyrics. On the other hand it is also possible that the composition is actually meant to counterpoint the lyrics and vice versa. We will never know, hopefully.

Overall the song doesn’t really convince. There are too many elements that make it seem unfinished and directionless, but there are positive aspects of it too, f.e. the instrumental “tutti part”. I’ll end at 5/12, but it might change later. 5/12

I think the backdrop used in the Icelandic final is over-emphasizing the lyrical content a bit with its creepy shadows. It does take away a bit of the imagination.

2 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland”

  1. Georgia:
    “You may also hear an echo of the 90’s grunge scene. It couldn’t get much further away from the usual Eurovision stuff, and as such it adds to the diversity of the contest in a positive way.”

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    Btw, the "Stains of blood on your skin" part of the song is absolutely mesmerizing for me.
    All in all, so glad you like too my #1 for this year 🙂

    BiH: This has ended up as a let down due to lack of chemistry between those two and the not so inspired composition. I totally agree re: the comparison with 2007 and 1999.

    Iceland: I didn't like this one in the first place, but it sort of grew on me…
    I like the way she's "entering" vocally.

    Liked by 1 person

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