Three-Minute Throwdown: Ukraine 2020 Edition

After two weeks of semi-finals, Ukraine has entered its deciding week. The winner of the Saturday final, scheduled to begin at 18:00 CET (19:00 local), will represent Ukraine after a year-long hiatus following contract talk breakdowns with the 2019 winner Maruv concerning concerts in Russia and creative control. Jamala is slated to perform, as are the six acts that have qualified for the final.

Following the pattern of the previous articles in the series, each song is broken down throughout the course of one listen for musical detail and intrigue. Pauses are ok for the sake of writing; backtracking is not except under extenuating circumstances. These analyses will be written in a structured stream of consciousness style. The set of “Arcade” analysis articles (all linked here) can provide clarification where needed; otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment/question! Let’s begin.

Khayat – Call for Love

A minor, slightly detuned. Dark electronic background. Falsetto singing, possibly in a Ukrainian style, accompanied by bass drum accents give way to a verse sung in chest voice. If he was trying to hit the notes in A minor, he’s not doing a particularly good job of it in the beginning. Percussion building higher every four bars, constant usage of syncopation (off-beat rhythms). Interlude/drop around 1:35 introduces ethnic woodwind instruments atop the previously mentioned electronic backdrop. Witchy green and dark, is this secretly a summoning call? He sings better after the mostly-instrumental interlude. The female singer is definitely singing in the style of a folk tradition I do not know, and its sound reminds me a bit of Sami joik. I don’t know if it’s a video quality thing or just me, but besides the head that popped up before the second drop, I can’t make head from tail of what the LED display is doing. It looks like lava peppered with green. Camera is whirling and making me dizzy – not for the motion sickness-prone at the end.

David Axelrod – Horizon

C major. Starts off with a piano flourish on Csus2 (C-D-G), adds strings after. Pleasant ballad but not particularly ground-breaking. Nice literal angelic choir and sonorous voice. A lot of space imagery, cool colors. Modulation up to Db major around 2:15. Uncanny similarities to “Bigger than Us” albeit with more camera interaction and a chord change.

Tvorchi – Bonfire

A major, though the singer is singing the flat 3 associated with minor keys – interesting dissonance. Starts off with constant eighth note piano pulses. Trap beats, bassy backdrop with brassy accents from time to time. Looks like a psychedelic forest in the back. There is a level of “indie” production that I will tolerate, but at least the intonation should be more steady. This is reminding me of Anis Don Demina’s staging from Deltävling 3 in Melodifestivalen. The drop’s vocal chops are repeated in the synth part when the singing returns. Nice builds into the drops. Final part was fine, in part because the vocal part stopped moving as much as it did. Ended with a strong drum hit soaked in reverb to give it the sound of having fallen in a larger space.

Krutь – 99

I had to look up what instrument I was seeing in the thumbnail. It’s a bandura, a cross between a lute and a zither.

E minor chord, then A major chord with some sort of wildlife-like sound in the background, then repeat but on higher strings (same chord, different voicings). Verses are more strongly in G major than E minor, despite the presence of a B chord, which would transition smoothly into E minor. The chorus, in which 1:04 is approximately the middle, is strictly diatonic (four chords, Em, Bm, C, Am, are all in the key of E minor without needing to modify notes). The rest of the song has some level of chromaticism (non-diatonicism). The backdrop is telling a story. A bit difficult to focus on both the story and the performance, but it seems like one of the characters in the story also has a bandura or similar instrument. Whistling part around 2:28. Non-chalant high notes from both the singer (B5) and at the very end (E6 sliding into F#6). Laid-back, narrative song.

Go_A – Соловей (Solovey, Nightingale)

F# minor. Looks like the instrumentalist is using a sopilka, which according to the site Proud of Ukraine is used by many Ukrainian folkloric bands to recreate traditional Western Ukrainian music. Presence of a large drum on the sopilka player’s side. Three singers in the middle, synth player on the side playing a wobbly polysynth sound. Arrangement like a V, though singers are closer to each other. Red and black background. Fascinating vocal technique, imagining this as NOX (Hungary 2005) if they had been more folk-oriented. I think they put some powder on the drum heads for dramatic effect. Must have missed the synth person’s drum due to camera angles. I see something like an hourglass but in the style of a Celtic knot in the middle of a white flower-like visual, which is cool if bizarre to my lyric-blind self. The designs in the middle of that sun are changing. Runes or glyphs are showing up within a circle behind the flower. One of the things I’ve noticed with folk pop this past decade up to now is that there’s a lot more bass now compared to the 2000’s. There was bass in the 90’s too, but in the 2000’s, a lot of music tended toward higher, cymbal-like frequencies. The vocal delivery style is likely related to the white voice singing that Tulia used in the Polish 2019 entry “Fire of Love (Pali się)” – very open and bright. However, the Poles sang in unison (the same notes at the same time), while the approach here is polyphonic (different sounds at the same time). Interesting break and transition to head voice in the area including 2:08 – a lot darker, despite the synth bass giving a few overtones (higher sounds) due to some distortion of its waveform from a perfect sine wave. I think I just saw a guitarist on the side just as they changed to half-time feel.

Jerry Heil – Vegan

Do I see people dressed as animals and fruits in the thumbnail? This will be a colorful number.

Random meteor or falling object making impact, highlighting some Jerry Heil buckets instead of KFC ones. A major. She used a refrigerator with stickers. This is a very interesting indie synth pop take on veganism – there are vegetable apartments and homes and a Welcome Las Vegans sign! This song would be very ironic if she were actually were not vegan. Message songs might be a bit hit-or-miss; at around 2:18, a section that toys with Phrygian mode starts up (it includes the note Bb). Of all these songs, this is probably the most mainstream in approach.

Out of these six songs competing for a spot on the Rotterdam stage, which is your favorite? The show can be streamed on UA:PBC’s YouTube page come Saturday night.

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