Three-Minute Throwdown: Armenia 2020 Edition

This Saturday is the second time a group of countries will select their artists and songs. Armenia is one of these countries. As written on the Eurovision press release, Depi Evratesil 2020 will take place at 19:00 CET (22:00 local time) on 15 February 2020 on Armenia’s Channel One and www.1tv.am. The twelve songs competing were first vetted by a jury and will now, similar to the Depi Mankakan Evratesil (Junior Eurovision) procedure, send the song that receives the most votes out of an international jury, domestic jury, and televote. As with other countries who have had Three-Minute Throwdowns (Australia, Czech Republic, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway), all songs will undergo a three-minute, one-take musical analysis (no backtracking, but pauses okay). As YouTuber, Sound Field host, and classical pianist Nahre Sol has recently mentioned on a new YouTube video, analyses can inform and enrich the experience of musical learning and enjoyment. Without further ado, let us begin the journey into musical discovery!

Agop – Butterflies

Bb major, starts off with piano actively playing block chords on both hands. Even though the Bb major chord doesn’t appear until later, the melody focuses mainly on Bb, C, D, and F, which more strongly suggests Bb major than G minor (similar to “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry). Off-tonic beginning. Was wondering if my 10-year-old computer was having issues before the music continued around 0:10. That tremolo effect is what you hear in songs like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day) and is demonstrated below on the electric guitar instead of the piano:

The singing is very back in the mix and the electronic bass drum very forward in the mix. I associate these types of mixes with demos and/or indie pop, whose producers often do not have the time or money to refine their work. It might be more economical to find the winner from this selection and just refine that artist’s entry at the studio again. Not sure what that electric guitar sound in the chorus is. This song has nice parts, but they need to come together, and the mix is stopping this from being more enjoyable. I have finished scoring and am currently arranging something for the EBU Anthem contest, and I know what MIDI production sounds like. This sounds like MIDI production with poor soundfonts and mixing, which is a shame because the song could be a really nice opening number if properly produced. That ending was abrupt and left no room for the piano to fade out at the end – if it needs to get cut, speeding up the song marginally should be of less consequence.

Arthur Aleq – Heaven

B minor. Sounded very potentially ethnic to begin and then confirmed within 9 seconds. Began with a soundscape sculpted by a synth bass and strings (I think synthesized), then the plucked instrument that sounds like a mandolin comes in with whooshing atmospheric synthesizer pads and bass drum pounding on every beat. Pizzicato strings in the verse. The melody sounds rather pentatonic right now. Maybe not ethnic, but folk-pop? The beginning of the chorus is mostly vocals and percussion, with the whooshing synth pad and strings pushed far back in the mix. Is Armenian folk music known for percussion usage? That is a question that remains to be answered. (I’ll look later.) The persistence of the drums sounds somewhat militant, like a crusade considering the title of the song. Bass guitar was my third instrument, and it sounds really empty without a greater amount of bass (I can perceive some, but not nearly enough). Considering the Eurovision audience, I don’t know if people will be receptive to a lack of bass unless reasoning or a revamp is given before the show.

Athena Manoukian – Chains On You

ESCtakeover interviewed Manoukian late last year, and Manoukian said that she hoped to represent her heritage country Armenia, country of residence Greece, or Greek neighbor Cyprus. Seeing that the other two countries chose internally (Stefania and Sandro, respectively), the only other option was Armenia. We wish her the best of luck. Now let us begin the analysis.

Ooh, A Phrygian sounds in the beginning. This reminds me of Greek modes. Not sure what the instrument is at the beginning (likely synthesized). Let’s move on. Oh, there’s a rap here. The sub-bass comes in on the D that confirms the song is in D, but instead of D minor, I would say that this song is in D Aeolian because of the lack of harmonic movement that is needed to establish major and minor tonality. (This topic was mentioned in the third article on “Arcade“.) Before the “chains on, chains on you” chorus, the bass and chord root move to the note A. If this were tonal, some C# note would appear. Instead, there’s only the C5 she sings. This is catchy and up-to-date with the trap beat work and sparse melodic and harmonic content, but potentially a bit too risqué for the child part of the audience with regard to the lyrical content. Then again, the last two Czech songs have fared well, and the 2010 winning song did mention underwear.

ERNA – Life Faces

The attack of that synth is really slow – it takes a long time for the synth sound to actually come in. Began with F G7 Cm C Fm G7 Cm6/Eb in the verse, I think – the beginning sound was a Bb major chord but in some inversion. This is a bizarre song in a good way – no one expects the Spanish Inquisition nonstandard harmony. There’s a low synth and electronic drums; is there going to be a sub-bass filling out the empty parts of the musical space? F minor despite the beginning. Oh, I see. The synth bass line is really high so it can drop lower. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of using a bass if the bass is just playing notes that are well within the range of even the human female voice? I understand that there is a fullness of sound stemming from the usage of a large instrument or synthesized version therein, but at that frequency range and consistency, the synthesizer needs to be turned down a lot. Change instrumentation to an actual double bass, jazz drum set, jazz guitar, and trumpet, and I would be able to imagine this in a New Orleans context instead. The unexpected recurring chord G7 gives this song almost a menacing feel. Bass is nice, but I prefer having it as one element in the context of the entire song instead of front-and-center in the mix as it is now. It’s distracting me. The jazz comment comes from the iiø7-V-i in the chorus progression (Gm7b5 – C7 – Fm).

EVA Rida – No Love

A minor. Begins with acoustic guitar playing a tresillo pattern. Synth swell into verse, begin trap percussion with hi-hat on heavy repeat. Am Am Em Dm in the verse. My computer refused to stop when I wanted it to, so I’m backtracking because my pause rights were violated. F G Am Am in the chorus, and apparently she’s using some wordplay with “know” and “no”, which sound the same. Generally, when there’s a build like into the second chorus around 1:25, a more effective way to use that build’s energy is to add volume in some way, either by increasing the levels of instruments or (better) adding instruments, including possibly the low-frequency distorted sound as some sort of sub-bass instead of going for what sounds like the same instrumentation as the first time around. Nice interlude instrumentals between the last choruses, if surrounded by lyrics that seem a bit insipid.

Gabriel Jeeg – It’s Your Turn

A minor. The piano sounds slightly detuned akin to a honky-tonk genre piano sound setting. Blues scale spotted, expecting something bluesy here. 30 seconds in and I feel like I’m going to be watching the next Wild West shootout between the tone of those snare hits, the organ, and the atmospheric sound effects/ambience. The blues came in the chorus with a solladola motif from a distorted something – maybe organ? Nice bass. Started off as a slow 12/8 and used the bass to transition between the beginning and the upbeat 4/4 tango. Missed the counting before the second chorus, but that sounded non-standard. There’s been an accordion for a while, but there’s also a lot going on here. Fun chromatic piano part after the chorus around 2:10, and this is probably the first song that I don’t have major production qualms with. Modulation to Bb minor! There was definitely an extra measure for that line. I think he was saying “love me, love me”, and the extra “love me” made the phrase five measures long instead of a more standard 4 or 8. Think I’m hearing the 7#9 clash of Ab and A before the final chord on “turn” at the very end.

Hayk Music – What Is To Be In Love

C major. Piano ballad thematically suitable for the week. Healthy serving of suspended chords, sevenths, and add9 chords. Extended harmony coloration, yay! Sounds good so far, am at the end of the first post-chorus (“I know…”). Is this seriously just a piano-and-vocal delivery? How rare they are in popular music nowadays. There wasn’t much to talk about production-wise because it’s hard to screw up the recording of two instruments – would have recommended a proper acoustic piano if possible, though. It did sound like a decent synthesized piano sound, but there’s something about hearing the real deal that makes things like Ólafur Arnalds’ work so entrancing.

Karina EVN – Why?

C minor. Pulsing synth has taken all the upbeats – if this were a dance track (could still be, am 0:07 in), the bass drum could be playing when the synth isn’t. To think that this song would be censored on American radio is an interesting thought. Solid hook and build into the chorus groove. Spoken tresillo before 1:44. Prominent 4-on-3 polyrhythm in the chorus, as Adam Neely has mentioned before concerning other pop music. Is EDM going to have its moment this decade? We shall see. Karina’s vocals could be a bit more forward, but the studio mix of vocals will be a non-factor in live performance.

Miriam Baghdasaryan – Run Away

F# minor. Starts off with subdued piano, front-and-center vocals, and backing samples. Dmaj7 E C#7 D chord progression in the verse keeps on evading the F# minor. The synthesized elements are even emphasizing the F#. Like “Butterflies”, this appears to be a song searching for the home chord. CHORD SPOTTED IN THE CHORUS. When the hi-hat came in, I was hoping for some trap sound-repeating to happen, but alas. The sound at 1:38 is way too dark for my tastes – if the impact was supposed to be larger, perhaps a more open/less bassy production decision would have worked more effectively. Perhaps all that tonic evasion was to get the point of the title and thematic material across more dramatically as a form of word painting, doing to music what the text of a song suggests. Artful, reminds me of the Dan Tompkins project White Moth Black Butterfly in its combination of slightly more poppy elements (more the percussion here) with a darker vibe that includes guitars.

Sergey & Nikolay Harutyunov – Ha, Take a Step

E minor. Noticeable tremolo in the keyboard sound (I think it’s a Rhodes-style sound). 12/8, the first singer’s rasp makes him sound like he would be suited for some type of hard rock band and this is just some ballad break or something of the sort. Confirmed in some way – this reminds me of a combination of some sort of updated 12/8 Peter Gabriel ballad combined with the rock vibes of Edguy and Avantasia (Unser Lied für Stockholm) lead man Tobias Sammet or something to that respect. Expecting gang vocals in later choruses. I guess a duet is enough of a gang. I guess not, not with that unexpected modulation to B minor at 1:56. Solid vocals – hope they can be sustained through live performance. Full gang vocals are here! I just wished they were accompanied by power chords to fill out the space a bit more than just depending on the vocals, drums, strings, and bass, the latter two which are lower in the mix. Would probably have ended the final “are” on a B3 instead of an F#4 for a bit of finality.

TOKIONINE – Save Me

TOKIONINE was on the songwriting teams for the 2019 Armenian season, “Walking Out” performed by Srbuk in Tel Aviv and “La La La”, the runner-up of the Armenian Junior Eurovision selection sung by Vardan Margaryan and analyzed before the national final.

Indeed very electronic. C# minor. Very syncopated just like “La La La” but more “bad boy” vibes and that’s emphasized by the lower frequencies and darker tone as well as the lyrics. Solid drops. Would have liked a regular snare during the second verse or pre-chorus (the latter includes 1:27) to signify a build of sorts. Ah, the snare has come in the second half of the pre-chorus (maybe 1:34)! The song could do with an earlier build or more hints of the snare; that was a long time to wait. That effect around 2:11 was gnarly! Felt like the sound turned in my headphones and then disappeared in time, only to come back in full. You can tell he has experience writing this sort of music, and of the three songs in the past year he’s contributed to the Armenian Eurovision public, I think this is the most effective. The silences here work really well because they sound natural instead of enforced by a strict noise gate. Not sure about the direction on the synthesizer at around 2:40 – it’s quite bright compared to the rest of the song.

Vladimir Arzumanyan – What’s Going On Mama

A minor fade in, 4:3 polyrhythm again comes back, vibraphone-like synthesizer. This melody is diatonic instead of pentatonic, which is becoming increasingly common. This song reminds me of a deeper-voiced Shawn Mendes if his songs were more non-organic in instrumentation choice. After the chorus, around 1:40, vocals doubled down an octave. Solid mid-tempo pop ballad.


Which of these songs is your favorite? The final will be over soon, and we will soon know if your predictions are correct!

Image credits ARMTV via Eurovision.tv.

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