Three Minute Throwdown: Iceland 2020 Edition

After two semi-finals of the Icelandic selection Söngvakeppnin, the field of five songs and acts fighting for a flight to Rotterdam has been set. As with the rest of the Three Minute Throwdown series, each of these songs’ semi-final performances will be analyzed to the fullest extent possible through a one-take listen (stops allowed). The semi-final performances are all in Icelandic in accordance with the rules, and these songs’ live performances will be commented upon, regardless of if the language is different in the final version.

Isold and Helga – Meet Me Halfway

This song is going to be changed to English. Db major, starts off with piano, background synth pads, and what sounds like a ticking clock. Pink and blue-purple lights highlight an otherwise dark staging. The singers have their backs to each other, similar sequin costumes but different colors (blue and silver). Their voices blend well in the chorus. Guitar comes in along with a four-to-the-floor acoustic bass drum rhythm in the second verse – the pop rock song is building. Their voices blend so well – I have to mention this because it’s been a while since I’ve heard a nice featured duo harmonizing so well on a Eurovision-related stage. The drums are a bit stale and the mix a bit bassy – easier to hear after an extended stop. Overall, solid power ballad.

Daði and Gagnamagnið – Think About Things

This song is going to be changed to English. Eb minor, begins with two synths – one pad and one playing constant sixteenth notes. His voice is rather deep. These costumes all have 8-bit faces on them. Catchy synthpop, sounds like Daði is holding back on vocals, though. Multiple bass lines – one from the synth, one from what sounds like a slapped bass. The second chorus focuses on the electric bass sound (can’t remember about the first). Impressively versatile “instruments” playing some synth brass in the drop after the second chorus. The choreography looks admittedly nerdy, but such is the 80s vibe to me. Choreographed stares at the camera breaking the fourth wall. Final chorus key change to F minor. Fun dance hit.

Nína – Echo

This song is going to be changed to English. Eb minor. Same progression as “Holiday” by Green Day though markedly more somber in tone and in a different key. Her high notes seem a bit inconsistent in the :30-:40 range. Pre-chorus building via bass drum four-on-the-floor right after. The turning to the camera thing continues here. Percussive chorus is fun. Percussion is a bit monotonous, as if the drums were programmed (they likely were). Interesting new instrument in verse 2. Her voice is off in this verse and in the song… I think it’s most apparent in the dissonance between her and the backing vocalist doubling her around 2:08. The energy drops at around 2:39. Large choir on her left. I think the drums should have dropped earlier. Final chorus with her singing a descant sounds alright.

Íva – Oculis videre

I read that the singer is blind. I’m not syntactically processing the song title, but it’s along the lines of “eye see”. Starts off with tribal-ish drumming. A minor. Electric piano playing A minor every measure so far (0:25). The vibe of the first 48 seconds so far reminds me vaguely of a druid circle, and not the game type. The plucked string instrument sound playing around the A minor pentatonic scale in open voicings and fifths, thirds, and unison/octave backing vocals remind me vaguely of Enya when crossed with “Zanza the Divine” from the Xenobade Chronicles OST, a mix of eastern and western mysticism. The triangle LED disappears into the black-and-blue permeating the song, giving way to antiphonal singing in the part including 1:24. There is enough reverb on the backing vocalists to think of Gregorian chant, which was practiced in cathedrals often boasting terrific acoustics and high levels of reverberation. Tone clusters, such as those for which Eric Whitacre (co-host of Eurovision Choir of the Year in 2017) is known, appear in the diverging harmonies around 1:44. Ethereal vibes. I’m almost positive I’m hearing a mix of Icelandic and Latin. The horns around 2:14… as someone who grew up with classical music and was slowly introduced to pop music, the classical crossover vibe here is completely my jam. The lights turned to red… The triangle is back. Chills. What did she say at the end? The ritual is now over. Entrancing.

DIMMA – Almyrkvi

Band. G minor. Starts off acoustic, but with electronic backdrops ending with a hissing reverse cymbal at 0:31. Changes to hard rock. Gang vocals could be layered on even more at around 1:10. The verses are in D minor. Interesting modulation from the A major chord ending the verse (in D minor) directly into G minor in the choruses. Television static visual effect after the short guitar solo. The cymbals are strangely forward in the mix; they would probably sound more realistic if recorded during Söngvakeppnin instead of in a studio and then transferred to the Reykjavik arena. Solid final vocal C5 down to Bb4.

Which of these five songs resonates more strongly with you? The final will air on 29 February on RÚV at 20:45 CET.

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