Three-Minute Throwdown: Czech Republic 2020 Edition

On Monday 20 January, the Czech Republic released seven songs which will have a chance to grace the stage in Rotterdam. The official Eurovision website has announced that international fans can vote for their favorite entries via the Eurovision app. The audience vote and jury vote will be combined to determine the next representative of the Czech Republic following Albert Černý’s (Lake Malawi lead singer and guitarist) attempt to try out for the Polish selection Szansa na sukses, according to Eurowizja (in Polish).

If you want a more analytical view of all seven entries (with a bit of opinion), read ahead! These will all be impressions given after the first listen-through (some stops for writing allowed, but no backtracking upon the author’s honor); much music is to be had in this national final season. Previous analyses – particularly the three-part series on the 2019 winning song “Arcade” – may help demystify some concepts within.

Photo credit: Česká televize.

Barbora Mochowa – White & Black Holes

D Mixolydian – vamping between D and C chords. The part at 2:18 vamps between B♭ and C, possibly pointing to (but never reaching) D minor in contrast to Mixolydian (which has a D (major) chord).

Reverb, somewhat indie, dream-pop-ish, cello in the background at the beginning, reverberant and very bassy bass drum and synth bass entrance around 0:43. Harpish sound and slow-moving harmony reminds me of Debussy. Spoken word – will it be present in the stage version, or will it be gobbled up in the dreamy nature of all the other sounds? The programmed drum part morphs from one pattern to another throughout the song. B♭ chord was not expected at 2:18! Excellent, ethereal sound design at this ending section reminds me of modern soundtrack soundscapes. The high vocal notes keep getting higher – D6 was my highest on a great day when I sang in choirs. Artsy, some fast hi-hat note repeater action.

Benny Cristo – Kemama

B♭ minor

Title is phonetic version of writing “(O)K Mama”. Rhythmically active synth sound. The chord progression and way the synth is played (riff and then silence) reminds me of Zara Larsson’s “Carry You Home”, though this song is much more upbeat and intense. The drums take a while to come in and do a mid-measure fill before starting a regular pattern. Very syncopated, not as much harmonically focused (the chord progression just repeats and singer sings notes from the B♭ minor pentatonic scale – five (penta-) specific notes (sounds, tonic ~ tone) in B♭ minor). Added brass in second half. Added auxiliary percussion in bridge which includes section in 2:25. Final chorus starts with percussion only and then adds harmonic information back (backing vocals, synths) mid-measure. Ending synth pad went from D♭sus4 to D♭ major chord; B♭ minor and D♭ major keys have the same sounds within, but they focus on the notes B♭ and D♭, respectively.

Elis Mraz ft. Čis T – Wanna Be Like

Pre-listening thoughts: The Eurovision article linked above says that this is a collaboration between a singer-songwriter (Elis Mraz – is that her real last name or is this in homage to Jason Mraz?) and a hip-hop artist from Slovakia (Čis T). Could be interesting to hear how those two mindsets blend. Miss you, Slovakia!

Key: C minor

She’s strumming a ukulele, and I’m pretty sure I’d associate Jason Mraz with such acoustic instruments, but I don’t hear it because it’s drowned out by the synth pads in the background. Strong habanera rhythm/tresillo pattern from the outset. Electric guitar sound apparent, not an acoustic instrument. Gratuitous use of note repeater on the drums and cymbals throughout. Bass guitarist visible in music video, most likely aided by a strong sub-bass if not completely synth bass on original studio track. Acoustic guitar sound appears in section around 0:59, capo 3 most likely, still not a ukulele. This song is a solid dance track between the drums and bass supporting the groove. Hello rapping, I believe in Spanish. Again, Afro-Latin influences. Oh, Elis is rapping now. Solid, fast and well-rehearsed, alternates between straight and triplet rhythm. Around 2:35, Elis sings a minor bluesy line with the F♯ (♯4 degree in C minor), one of the only deviations from C minor pentatonic I can hear.

Karelll – At Least We’ve Tried

Key: F minor. I thought it was going to be D♭ major; however, this chord progression (in the verse) ends most strongly on the F minor chord, which gets twice as much time to be itself while also being where the vocals at the end of the first verse end. Similar chord progressions are in the songs “Serendipity” and “Raised in Rain” (Miriam Bryant), and (to an extent) “Shaj”. Choruses in this song sound more like A♭ major, the relative major of F minor (like with “Kemama”, same sounds within, but sound of focus is different).

The slow movement of the piano chords reminds me a bit of Ólafur Arnalds, experimental composer with heavy classical experience. Not the voice I was expecting. I was expecting a bit cleaner; however, it works. Off-tonic beginnings of both verse and chorus (they start away from the Fm – F minor – chord). Uneasy alternation between counts of 3 and 2 on the chorus lyrics “At least we’ve tried” like in Franka’s “Crazy” (Croatia 2018) come to mind. 6/8 piano ballad, likely a breakup song; is this the effect of Duncan Laurence? Incredibly bittersweet male ballad.

Olga Lounová – Dark Water

Chords: B F♯m A E Verses; C♯m A E B/D♯ Chorus

Very reverberant and echoey background that does indeed sound like she’s underwater. This chord progression proves hard to analyze without considering each individual note that Olga sings. For example, the Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) hit “Revelation Song” (linked version by Phillips, Craig & Dean) holds the first chord through the intro and focuses on the root (main note) of the first chord in the voice part while playing the fourth chord. This sort of continuity lends itself to emphasize the first chord, which would suggest that the first chord in that song, F♯, is the main chord there. Here, it is not as obvious due to melodic concerns. If I heard all the notes, I only hear Olga sing B, C♯, D♯, G♯, and A in a rhythmic diatonic sequence. In this attached MIDI sequence (just a guideline), the melody is singing in the same rhythm every two measures, while the root notes (named notes) of each chord fall a whole step (two spaces, called semitones or half-steps) between the first two measures and the second two measures. In this way, these two-measure chunks may be viewed as two groups, where the first chord of each group – B and A – is most important. In this way, along with the melody notes being centered around B in most closed voicing (if you put the notes as close together as possible, they will be in the order G♯, A, B, C♯, D♯), this part can be thought of as being in B Mixolydian, just like “Revelation Song”, even if the melody changes in the second verse.

The chorus, on the other hand, focuses clearly on the C♯ note and the relevant chord in both the melody (which lands on the C♯ but not the E) and the harmony (with ♭VII – i movement), which suggests that the choruses are in C♯ minor. The verses and choruses do not sound like they have the same resting chord, which further suggests that the focus of both sections is different. Solid power ballad.

Pam Rabbit – Get Up

Preliminary thoughts: Pam has been involved in the Czech Eurovision scene the past two years. Could be interesting to see what she came up with here!

Key: E♭ minor

Very electronic beginning, and the harmony kept on developing into the verse. Unconventional and cool; I like Zedd (especially his older work) for that reason. The song changed from straight rhythms to swung rhythms when the vocals came in. The high-pitched synth sample is juxtaposed on the swung rhythms in the chorus. Rapped bridge. Voice is doubled by pitch shifter (lower voice singing at the same time as Pam in the chorus was programmed to do so). Fascinating combination of ideas.

We All Poop – All The Blood (Positive Song Actually)

Preliminary thoughts: What a name.

Key: D minor

Maybe because of the vibe and the chord progression, I thought of twenty one pilots’ song “Heathens” right when the song started. There’s going to have to be some censorship in Rotterdam if this gets selected. Rhythm of most non-bass harmonic instruments fall on offbeats like reggae, like MAGIC!’s hit “Rude”. The music video is reminding me of “Pompeii” (Bastille) in the running away from calamity theme. The acoustic guitar/vocal-only texture in the bridge is a break from the gritty sound created by the large bass sound combined with the drums and overdriven guitar. This vibe has not been heard at Eurovision yet and could be an interesting choice.

Which of these songs is your favorite? Who will you vote for? Let us know, and we will see what happens once the international jury votes have been tabulated?

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