Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Eurovision 2015 - My Top 12

So I have this blog tag called Eurovision which I used all the way back in 2010 to discuss our national selection process, and I did so with some fairly unpleasant words at that. I really shouldn't have, because Eurovision is about coming together as a continent to do something relatively fun and frivolous. If I liked it then I love it now, and actually spend a lot of time listening to all of the songs. It's my equivalent of watching sports or racing, but with a fantastic blend of camp performances, great music and the lingering stain of sixty years' international politics. So here, in a rough order, are my top 12 songs of the 40 from this year. (I love them all, I'm just organising them for funsies.)

12 -  Hungary - "Wars for Nothing", Boggie
Do you know our earth is a mess
All the wars for nothing, it never ends

Singer Boggie reached international aclaim (apparently) after her video for the song, "Nouveau Parfum", which acted as a protest against the retouching of women in magazines and the draconian standards of beauty created by the media. This time she presents a ballad (the first on this list of a large selection of ballads this year) which acts as a cry-out for peace, a common Eurovision topic of choice. Boggie's got a great voice, and while I'm not sure "Wars for Nothing" is a winner, it's really quite pleasant and easily makes this list.

11 - Lithuania - "This Time", Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila
My God, stop for a minute and think
How about we just go out for a drink?

Monika Linyte has been trying to represent her country every year since 2010; she in fact competed against fellow singer Vaidas Baumila in last year's selection. Together they present an upbeat pop song with some catchy lyrics. And a pretty cool drop. I do hope that these two see some success this year, what with how long Linkyte has been trying to reach this point, but that's a story true of a few other artists this year too.

10 - Latvia - "Love Injected", Aminata
Your love revives my soul
And I know you’ll choose it whole overall

With FKA-twigs style verses on top of a Florence-esque chorus, Aminata pours out a great chunk of her soul into "Love Injected". An economics student (and prospective pop star), Aminata's got great style and despite how strange it may seem to the modern contest, I think it could be a real contender if the wind is in the right direction. Better than last year's "Cake To Bake" anyway, as fun as that was.

9 - Austria - "I Am Yours", The Makemakes
You’re what I belong to, the one thing that feels true
Everything I could ever want

The defending champions, following up Conchita Wurst's impressive bond-theme "Rise Like A Phoenix", have chosen young band The Makemakes and their love song "I Am Yours". Aside from the obvious Jason Mraz comparisons, the song is actually quite sweet, sincere and catchy to boot. It's near impossible for Austria to win twice in a row, but The Makemakes are pretty cool and you really couldn't ask for a better act in the "probably won't win" slot. (Well, one of the "probably won't win" slots.)

8 - Germany - "Black Smoke", Ann Sophie
Two hearts are left to burn, do you know
We’re only left with smoke

My second entry from the seven entries that are automatically going through to the final, Black Smoke is a jazzy number from London-born Hamburger Ann Sophie. Written by the fantastic Ella Eyre (whose album I've been waiting for since Christmas 2013 and which won't land until August of this year. It feels odd to me, because I never would have heard about her involvement in Eurovision had the actual winner of Germany's selection program "Unser Song für Österreich" not dropped out when he was announced as winner. Questions about whether he was right to even be in the running aside, I'm glad that this song ended up being Germany's instead of yet another goddamn ballad.


7 - Norway - "A Monster Like Me", Mørland & Debrah Scarlett
To find the prince you thought you found in me
I better set you free and give you up

This one had to grow on me first. As a song on its own, Norway's "A Monster Like Me" is a fairly nice ballad, balancing Mørland's quiet poignancy with Debrah Scarlett's frankness and power. It's also got a video which becomes really quite odd at the end. Other than that though I'm struggling to have a lot to say about it - it really did sneak up on me, but of all the other dry ballads this year, this is the one which has managed to stick in my head.

6 - Belarus - "Time", Uzari & Maimuna
Time is like thunder ah-ah
Hear it like thunder ah-ah

Uzari is a Belarusian singer who's been working with Eurovision for five years, this being his first time in the hotseat. Maimuna is a Russian-born violinist who grew up in Belarus and Mali. Together they've released "Time", a song whose catchy chorus and epic verses describe the inevitability of the passage of time. Belarus' last two entries (trashy "Solayoh" and cheeky "Cheesecake") didn't have half this much class and energy, and I actually do hope that this a contender - if only for Maimuna's fantastic violin score.

5 - United Kingdom - "Still In Love With You", Electro Velvet
Don't get on the wrong train, don't fly in an old plane
Don't go out in the pouring rain, you might get wet; I'd be upset

Here in the UK it's easy to just give up on the hope of ever winning the contest. After Josh Dubovies painful entry back in 2010 put a dampener on our 2009 success, we've sent a succession of old acts with little success. Last year I was convinced we had a chance thanks to Molly and her catchy anthem "Children of the Universe", but no luck. This year, instead of finding a popular singer, the BBC appointed Electro Velvet, a primary school music teacher and a reject from last year's series of The Voice UK. Together they perform Still In Love With You, a jazzy, fast paced pop song which either plays on the stereotype of British uptightness or is just cheesy as hell. Either way, I keep finding myself humming along to it, prepared as I am for it to fail completely.

4 - Denmark - "The Way You Are", Anti-Social Media
Summer's here, winter's gone
Finally I can see the sun
Every time you walk in to the room

Fresh off their hosting last year's contest, Denmark's made-for-the-contest band Anti-Social Media presents us with a fantastic, upbeat love song of the sort that ends up being quite popular at the contest. It's really catchy, the guy at mic isn't bad looking and in last year's contest, this would have been one of the high-flyers. I'm a little conflicted on its chances this year, however, as I can't help but wonder if the sheer number of ballads shows that Europe's tastes are moving away from this sort of song. For me though, this is a serious contender, and I hope it comes somewhere high.

3 - Estonia - "Goodbye to Yesterday", Elina Born & Stig Rasta
I didn't wanna wake you up,
my love was never gonna be enough,
so I took my things and got out of the way now, girl

Last year, The Netherlands submitted the amazing "Calm After The Storm". While that had more of a country vibe, this year's Estonian entry certainly follows in its spirit, and of all the love duets on this list it's by far my favourite. This was the song that stuck in my head the first time I skimmed through all of the songs, and I found my self humming the tune to it back in March before I'd even seriously thought about this year's selections. It's a beautiful song, it's catchy-ish, and it might be a contender. Might.

2 - Belgium - "Rhythm Inside", Loic Nottet
And if we die , tomorrow
What’ll we have to show
For the wicked ways, down below
The rhythm inside is telling us

Okay, so there's been some talk that this song rips off Lorde, and I can certainly see where they're coming from - the beat certainly takes after "Royals" in its pacing - but I'm not really ready to use that to tar the song. Inbetween ethereal yet sinister verses, Nottet delivers a powerful and aggressive chorus that gets me singing along every time. It's surprising to me that a song that feels this avant-garde is coming from a runner-up on The Voice Belgique, but I'm glad that this guy has had the chance to submit a song like this. It just goes to show that despite all the ballads that this year's given us, Eurovision can still provide some interesting music.

1 - Australia - "Tonight Again", Guy Sebastian
This is one tough act to follow
Oh baby tonight’s so good
Forget tomorrow
We can do tonight again

What the hell is this? Australia is literally on the other side of the planet to Europe, how can it be part of the Eurovision Song Contest? I'm more okay with it than I sound - as a one-off arrangement for the 60th Anniversary, Australia gets to field an act in the finale, with the agreement being that they can only return next year if they win. So of course they sent Guy Sebastian, an actual pop star dude in Australia whose soul-infused "Tonight Again" has been stuck in my head for weeks. Sebastian manages to embody a lot of things in one song - he's got soul chops and he's the life of the party. I just love this song, and I actually hope it wins - if only to shake Eurovision up a bit and show that maybe this guest thing can work again in the future.

Thanks.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Review: The One I Love

File:TOIL poster.jpg
From Wikimedia
The One I Love (2014), Directed by Charlie McDowell

Spoiler Warning. If you have any intention of seeing this film, go ahead and do so before reading beyond the first paragraph of this article. This is not just my reccomendation - this was the main message given to the press upon this film's release last year, promising a provocative twist on an otherwise run-of-the-mill story about a couple - Ethan (Mark Duplass, Jeff, Who Lives At Home) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men) - who go away on a retreat to try and rekindle their marriage. The promise of such a twist has been so woven into the film's marketing blurb that it's almost certain to result in disappointment from some viewers, but I certainly wasn't one of them, as much as I think the film needed some fine tuning on its Charlie-Kaufman style plot. Remember, spoilers from now.
     Ethan and Sophie have been failing to rekindle their relationship, unable to develop their relationship beyond their initial spark of passion and now reaping the unhappiness from having not moved it forward. Their new marriage councillor sends them to a retreat which seems normal at first, until both of them experience things with the other that their spouse does not remember. It seems that when one of them enters the property's guest house, they are able to interact with a doppelgänger of the other, with certain things refined and improved - Sophie's doppelgänger cooks fried breakfasts for her husband, and Ethan's is sensitive and works out. Things take a strange turn when both doppelgängers are able to leave the guest house, spiralling the film out into a bizzare sci-fi-lite plot in which it's revealed their copies are people conditioned to be like them in order to escape the house. It all gets confused from that point, until the real Ethan escapes with the woman he believes to be his real wife - and we are left to wonder whether he is right.
     I wouldn't usually put focus on a film's advertising, but the director put so much PR into the preservation of a spoiler-free experience that one must wonder where that's coming from. The One I Love's concept is something out of a Twilight Zone episode (indeed, that show is name-dropped) and the film doesn't really drop its big "twists" until about two-thirds of the way through. If you accept that McDonnell just wanted to preserve the first time experience (despite living in this age of digital free information), then it was a poor decision - said third-act twist is poorly explained and not really elaboated on - and that's okay for the purpose of the movie, it's just not something to get hyped up over. A more cynical view is that the whole thing was a marketing plot to allow the film to be advertised as a more mainstream romantic comedy instead of the quirky pseudo-thriller that it is.
     All that makes things a little awkward from the off, because despite that little bit of strangeness in its marketing, I really love this film. Duplass and Moss carry the film for pretty much its entire runtime, and play two characters who are subtly the same but different. Moss especially manages some Tatiana Maslany style subtlety whenever she gets to play her doppelgänger (mainly near the film's end.) On a textual level, The One I Love captures the necessity of renewal in long-term relationships, with both characters defeated by their inability to compromise and work towards maintaining their relationship as both of them change and grow older. If the final scene's suggestion is to be believed, then Ethan can never learn his lesson, because he now lives with a version of his wife who will change to acquiesce to his desires, and by pursuing Fake!Ethan, Sophie is now trapped in the estate for some unknown amount of time, possibly for the rest of her life.
     The supernatural idea that defines the first half the of the movie becomes its main flaw when they try to explain it - as a plot device it just exists, but the moment you try and explain its mechanics in real-world terms you start to strain suspension of disbelief. A doppelgänger producing house in the middle of nowhere is a random supernatural occurrence. Introduce elements of conspiracy and secret files and a strange, lethal force-field, and you start wanting to put people behind their existence. And the film doesn't need that, because as it stands its a good enough exploration of the central relationship. If you've not seen the film and you read this far anyway just to defy me (it's okay, I still love you, reader), go and see it. There are a few shots that linger for too long and all over the direction could have some fat cut away from it, but as an experience it's still a fantastic rollercoaster with a fairly decent message behind it.

Thanks.