Eesti Laul 2016: The Second Semi-Finalists Rated

Eesti Laul 2016: The Second Semi-Finalists Rated

Take a look at the entries from the second semi-final of Eesti Laul 2016, Estonia's search for a Eurovision song, following a first week that seemed to usher in a new dawn of quirks being allowed, stylistic variation welcomed, and seemed to wave goodbye to the spectacle of Estonia's top pop stars being criticised by comedians in a darkened room.

We had a TV show that let Estonian music live and breathe, without gimmick, and was all the better for it. And yeah, I take this seriously, because what is a song contest, if not serious? Catch the whole shebang on Saturday at 9pm Estonian time, on ETV

1. Go Away Bird - "Sally"
Oh awesome, this starts just like Franz Ferdinand's "Walk Away". It's also got a captivating Rotoscoped video. And it references the Beastie Boys with "gotta fight for your right." If PJ Harvey did this, I'd be surprised she'd gone mainstream, but I'd still love it. And I totally love that this song is considered for the Eesti Laul final 20. This is the new dawn, people. After "Goodbye to Yesterday", indie records are allowed and not sneered-at.

Should it Win?
In a world where Camera Obscura filled Wembley Arena, maybe.

Will it Win?
Lloyd, I'm ready to be heartbroken.

2. Jüri Pootsmann - "Play"
The nation's heart-throb goes deep and meaningful, in this song that sounds like about three Adele songs, while also having some Chris Isaac-reminding slide guitar. Hold on, though. Jesus, the song's called "Play". MENTION it once in the chorus and you've got a hit. J-Lo knew that. My attempts to get people to realise Pootsmann's recent single "Ainult Jooksen" sounded like Prefab Sprout were thwarted by no-one caring, but I'll keep on trying to prove it.

Should it Win?
Honestly, no. It's a reminder of when Estonian Superstar winners would chuck a "will-this-do" album track into Eesti Laul's submissions bin and get to the semi-finals because they were popular.

Will it Win?
It's a strong year, so no.

3. Meisterjaam - "Parmupillihullus"
Jaan Tatte Jr. is every bit as dark and smouldering as his gravel-voiced father. This song, though, is like nothing the legendary travelling folkster would have dreamed of. It's batshit-crazy, takes itself not at all seriously, and the video features a really funny scene in Tallinn's Must Puudel cafe involving the members of Meisterjaam discussing the perks of "fame". 

Should it Win?
It's a song. Honestly I barely have any idea if I'm in the same dimension after hearing that. 

Will it Win?
Only if the judges don't put together a conservative pincer motion to drown out the likely onslaught from the public vote.

4. I Wear*Experiment - "Patience"
Unusually for an Eesti Laul entry, "Patience" takes until the mid-point of the song to give us a rousing full-on euphoric barnstormer chorus. It's almost like it's teaching us patience. It's a remarkable display of restraint in a song that lasts only three minutes, but seems to get across many more tonal shifts than would have been thought possible in that time, while keeping a sense of big-sky sweep on minimal synths.

If Thom Yorke had written a song for Kylie Minogue to sing in an Australian entry to Eurovision, it might sound a bit like this. Cartoon's entry is an outstanding chorus - but this, this is an outstanding song. I've heard it about 30 times and it still knocks me sideways.

Should it Win?
Hands-down yes. I said "Immortality" was our best chance of winning Eurovision; I stand by that, but "Patience" is a musical adrenaline shot.

Will it Win?
It all depends on the performance. 

5. Púr Múdd - "Meet Halfway"
This is, appropriately, halfway through the bill. If Morten Harket fronted a drum-and-bass track it would sound a bit like "Meet Halfway", which begins with real thrust and urgency, has a fine soaring falsetto vocal, but seems to lose its way around the middle-eight, which doesn't seem to be from the same song. It's not a bad tune, but it sounds like it could use a bit of brushing-up in the songwriting. What a voice, though. I hope these guys stick around.

Should it Win?
No, but it's a good tune.

Will it Win?
No, but see above.

6. Grete Paia - "Stories Untold"
It's great to see Grete Paia return to Eesti Laul, where she finished a valiant second in 2013. The video to "Stories Untold", unfortunately, is a lyric video, which means that Sven Lõhmus's nonsensical meanderings are front and centre. I sense from the first verse that the Eurovision legend was watching Nicholas Cage flop "Ghost Rider" before putting pen to paper. The chorus, though, hits a gear I didn't think the song had, using part of the tune from Beyonce's "Halo", ramping up into full-on T'Pau mode and making me feel all funny for 1987.

Should it Win?
Not sending "Päästke Noored Hinged" to Eurovision three years ago, when that was a masterpiece, then sending "Stories Untold", would be a bit like not giving Martin Scorcese an Oscar for "Raging Bull" but trying to make up for that mistake by giving one for "The Departed".

Will it Win?
That's a thunderclap of a chorus, and puts this song in contention.

7. Põhja-Tallinn and Jaagup Kreem - "Eiolemulolla"
Põhja-Tallinn, who began as a pretty aggressive collective called Wild Disease, then got the mainstream virus, stopped being as much of a thing for me when Maia Vahtramäe left. The bards of Kopli are still soldiering on, also seemingly without Risto Würst, who was their most interesting rapper. They're bringing us another top tune that will surely light up the afternoon at the Pühajärve Jaanituli festival in June. It's not good, and evaporates when placed next to "Meel On Aega Veel", their masterwork.

Should it Win? 
No, this is the Black Eyed Peas of Estonian hip-hop in their "Time of My Life (Dirty Bit)" phase.

Will it Win?
Challenging "Immortality" with this is like bringing a pea-shooter to a mortar attack.

8. Anette Kulbin - "Strong"
Oh, this starts off like Sarah McLachlan is still on Adele's torch-song throne. Kulbin, who co-wrote this, has a gorgeous voice, carries the English lyrics perfectly, and displays genuine emotion. Lyrically the song is clever, twisting the notion of being "Strong" beyond what I'd expected. A great song.

Should it Win?
In a perfect world, this would be in the final three.

Will it Win?
Unfortunately, I think there are higher-profile entries that will beat this in the voting.

9. Gertu Pabbo - "Miljon Korda"
Gertu Pabbo finished second in the most recent Estonian Superstar contest, and has bags of talent. This song, with optimistic lyrics suggesting people standing united, begins like a sonic continuation of the previous one, but quickly picks up rhythm and drive thanks to a drum machine I'm sure I've heard before, and a chorus that gave me a jolt as I recalled great nights spent under the covers as a younger man, with headphones and my AM/FM radio, picking up signals from Medium Wave stations around Europe. Yes, I've always been a nerd.

Should it Win?
No, the song's a bit 2013.

Will it Win?
Not given this year's standard.

10. La La Ladies - "Unikaalne"
The La La Ladies, a naughty Pärnu summer postcard brought to life, begin this entry like Christina Aguilera in "Burlesque", before sashaying into something so machine-tooled that the production sounds like it hasn't had an acoustic instrument near it. This isn't a song to have endless debates about, it's a bit of fun, and Tanja Mihhailova and Timo Vendt, who won Eesti Laul 2014 with "Amazing", are on the team that wrote it.

Should it Win?
No, but that's not the point.

Will it Win?
Hey, I'm the sweet-talking, sugar-coated candyman.