Eesti Laul 2016: The First Semi-Finalists Rated

Eesti Laul 2016: The First Semi-Finalists Rated

Eesti Laul, the annual search for an Estonian entry for Eurovision, kicks off on Saturday on ETV, and although the performances have already been filmed, we look through the entries for the first semi-final below. The second semi-final takes place a week afterwards.

1. The Jingles - "Love a Little Bit"

It's hard to be critical about a campfire singalong from a group fronted by cheerful hat-loving Aussie Estonian resident Jonathan Flack. He promised, on a boat last summer during an acoustic gig, "you've not heard of us, you will soon," and he's right.

Bringing a few mental images from a Bondi Beach barbie to Tallinn, the sound is incongruous with the Estonian fifth seasonal slush, but is no worse for it. The song is also a close cousin of Flight of the Conchords' "Business Time".

Should it Win?
It would be great if it did, partly to see the look on Estonian Conservative People's Party Gauleiter Martin Helme's face.

Will it Win?
I'd venture it'll be hard for a group fronted by a foreigner to win, given the media narrative right now in the country, but if people can look past that, the song's got a decent hook and is catchy. The problem The Jingles might have is their lack of a strong constituency of voters, plus they're not exactly your typical Georg Otsa graduates - and it's helpful to have built up a network to get backing sometimes.

The elephant in the room is this: If we can have songs in English representing Estonia at Eurovision, what about Russian? Junk Riot is just one example of a superb Russian-language Estonian band.

2. Würffel - "I'm Facing North"

Roaring out of the icebox vacated by La Roux when they took too long releasing a second album, Würffel is a three-piece based around some cut-glass synths and a vocalist, former Eesti Laul solo contestant Rosanna Lints, who gives the tune real personality. The song even SOUNDS like it's facing north, looking into the cold. One of the best of the semi-finalists.

Should it Win?
It's a great song, but lacks the chorus to do well in Eurovision.

Will it Win?
No, but it'd be nice to see this group get to the final.

3. Mikk Pedaja - "Seis"

Perhaps the clearest sign that Eesti Laul producers are casting the net wider, Pedaja, from Rapla and the man behind murky, atmospheric electronics, brings a three-minute song that certainly isn't pop, but does reflect the beauty and isolation of a forest.

Should it Win?
It would be the sign of a whole new direction for Eurovision if this kind of song made the contest. It might even reinvigorate the "song" part of the name.

Will it Win?
No, but it's fun to think about it.

4. Indrek Ventmann - "Hispaania Tüdruk"

A near-facsimile of the tune of Grete Paia's "San Sebastiano", this features young heartthrob Ventmann reminiscing about a holiday in Tenerife. The whole thing feels a bit like it's trying to recreate Madonna's "La Isla Bonita", which is 29 years old.

Should it Win?
It's a bit outdated; Estonians don't go to Spain any more - half my friends were in Dubai last week. No, this is first-hurdle stuff.

Will it Win?
No.

5. Cartoon ft. Kristel Aaslaid - "Immortality"

This song has over a million YouTube views - quite incredible stats for a contender for a national song contest. Listening to it, it's not hard to hear why. A housey soundscape meshes perfectly with the outstanding vocal talents of a woman once known principally for starring in Estonian TV sitcom Padjaklubi, but who has performed in some absolutely knockout soul gigs in Estonia recently.

Should it Win?
Aaslaid's got the pipes to carry this song. If it won, this would be our best chance of winning Eurovision since 2001. 

Will it Win?
Bet on it.

6. Kea - "Lonely Boy"

Sadly not the Andrew Gold classic, this is a midtempo acoustic pop number co-written by Robert Stanley Montes, who clearly loves Estonia as he's produced and written for Helen Adamson and Liis Lemsalu in the last couple of years. The verse is a bit sluggish, and although chorus goes for anthemic, and though Kea carries the song ably, it's not quite a lighters-in-the-air moment.

Should it Win?
It's all too nondescript.

Will it Win?
Probably not.

7. Kati Laev - "Kaugel Sinust"

The truly beautiful Kati Laev, who is one of two Kuressaare singers in the semi-finals (the other is Grete Paia), sings what sounds like a song of defiance from a musical about the Second World War. The brass section is a rarity in Eesti Laul, as is the style of song.

Should it Win?
It's hard to see it competing against pop songs in Eurovision.

Will it Win?
No, but we ought to encourage this kind of diversity of songwriting for Eesti Laul.

8. Zebra Island - "How Many Times"

This electronic four-piece has been making waves for some time in Estonia, seeming at one time likely to be the next breakout act to make it big internationally. This is a cheery song reminiscent of early Madonna in a way that makes me want to put "Holiday" on afterwards.

Should it Win?
It's not got a Eurovision chorus - it needs to be something people will remember after one play, and I've forgotten it.

Will it Win?
No, but it's a decent entry.

9. Laura - "Supersonic"

The third in Laura's trilogy of Sven Lõhmus-penned futuristic epics to have entered Eurolaul / Eesti Laul, this paints a similarly Blade Runner-ish, dystopian picture, in which "sometimes the pills don't work". The production, as with all recent Lõhmus entries, is modern and polished, and props go to the key change, a device that raises the pulse. That said, the lyrics often don't make logical sense, either grammatically or in light of the overall concept, which is a shame, because Laura is an amazing vocalist (disclaimer, I've taught for her language agency).

Should it Win?
Laura deserves the chance to get revenge for the huge injustice of the judging fudge that saw robot-occupation warning "Destiny" lose out in 2009. However, this is probably not the song that Estonia can win Eurovision with, sounding a little out of step. That said, this is just my opinion, and the voters will decide.

Will it Win?
Laura has been out of the pop game for a long time, performing free jazz with Carrot Lights, but everyone knows her, and she's absolutely got the constituency among the public to win. The problem is the song, which isn't outstanding.

10. Windy Beach - "Salty Wounds"

Windy Beach's frontwoman is Tuuli Rand, which, to be honest, sounds like a far better name, but oh well. "Salty Wounds" has a salsa beat straight off Shakira's later work, and Tuuli's vocals are faultless - she's an outstanding singer. It's nice to hear some nineties retro Italian house piano on a song, too.

Should it Win?
It's good, but doesn't quite hit the heights in a year where the standard is very good.

Will it Win?
Tuuli Rand has been to this stage before, with Teele Viira, and "Ring the Alarm", their 2012 song that made the final, was better than this one.