Writing this proved to be an extremely slow process for all sorts of tedious reasons, but here are my notes on DAY 3 of the 2021 poll. Now long since completed but you can listen along on YouTube here – some true greats in this stretch.


Day 3 – 5 Discoveries

  • PAULI THE PSM – “I Got The Beat”
  • SERPENTWITHFEET – “Same Size Shoe”
  • TOKISCHA et al – “Yo No Me Voy Acostar”

Qualifier 13

LIZZO ft CARDI B – “Rumors”: Like Lil Nas X, Lizzo is going for a walking-event model of pop stardom, and like Lil Nas X that also means downplaying the rapping a bit in favour of big theatrical hooks. The best bit of this for me is Cardi’s brief cameo, everything else feels a bit overcooked.

CAROLINE POLACHEK – “Bunny Is A Rider”: Skeletal, cryptic electro-pop which reminds me a bit of (last year’s winner) Christine And The Queens. It’s the first Polachek thing which has connected at all with me, and it’s still so aloof I want to keep my distance a bit. But it’s good.

MANESKIN – “Zitti E Buoni”: On the night I was keen for these glam/funk rockers not to win Eurovision, but with hindsight it was probably the most interesting outcome…? That doesn’t make it an interesting song, tho, and without the context/contest there’s not a lot to this. Also the knowledge that there are bands like this pushing their RHCP styled rock in every corner of Europe makes me fear this is Not To Be Encouraged.

ELLE KING & MIRANDA LAMBERT – “Drunk”: I like the rhythm on this, the chorus is big and obnoxious enough to work, and I like that there’s no real ‘moral’ expected here. But I’ve also got to be honest and say, noisy drunks are the worst part of drinking, so kick them out.

Qualifier 14

AASIVA ft RIIT – “Piqatiikka”: This is really good, eerie electronica-pop from Nunavut, and I’m sad it didn’t pick up more support from the Bjork massive as you feel it would be right up their glacier.

KODO ft BABA PAMA & MC YALLAH – “Olympiaaku”: Veteran drum performance group Kodo team up with Ugandan rapper MC Yallah for a breakneck celebration of the Olympics. I’m a big fan of Yallah though I don’t think this is her best hook, but the blistering pace and use of live drums and traditional Japanese instruments make it one of the more unusual tracks this year and I’m glad it’s found a (small!) audience.

MABE FRATTI – “En Medio”: This one got plucked out of the bonus pool as soon as I read the words “experimental Guatemalan cellist” and to be honest I’m amazed it didn’t do better – it has Side-2-of-Low style atmospherics allied to a haunting shoegazey melody and (for me) stands out amongst some of the other slow/semi-instrumental tracks this year. But this is an all-killer qualifier I admit.

PAULI THE PSM – “I Got The Beat”: Softly spoken rapping and precise drumming, it’s hard to catch in words how idiosyncratic this track sounds to be honest – it should feel slight but it’s magical.

Qualifier 15

AYRA STARR – “Bloody Samaritan”: One of the great Afrobeats pop songs last year, an insistent but unshowy groove held together by a remarkable vocal from Starr and little licks of sax – Afrobeats is a style that expects a lot from its vocalists and it’s so rewarding when they deliver. Of all the tracks to exit in the qualifiers, “Bloody Samaritan” is the biggest shame.

CZARFACE & MF DOOM – “Jason And The Czargonauts”: As someone said in the poll comments, this is well above most posthumous releases, and it’s nice to be able to say goodbye to DOOM. I wish more hip-hop was progressing, though – DOOM was great but it seems like there’s a big blindspot when it comes to contemporary rap (as we’ll see in later groups). Anyway this will stand out more in Round 1.

GINGER ROOT – “Loretta”: Chintzy half-drunk lounge-pop (I think from Korea), actually pretty appealing, the kind of thing you can imagine being a beloved cult hit at an indie club. There’s a proper groove underneath it which saves it from disposability.

KEIINO – “MONUMENT”: There’s been a lot of Eurovision related stuff in this poll. Perhaps…too much? It’s all been pretty good though. This is very much in the modern E-Style – a collision of disparate elements (in this case dubstep beats, schlager, throat singing and keening string arrangement) where the point isn’t so much to be coherent as to provide a sequence of surprise “ah!” moments musically (and visually, on the night).

Qualifier 16

ASHLEY MONROE – “Siren”: Trace elements of country in the singing, but this has more in common with both the modern pop tracks in the poll and (more surprisingly) the post-punk. More in common with what I just described Eurovision as doing, for that matter. Odd, beguiling and very good.

BLACK DRESSES – “PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!”: I have added an arbitrary number of exclamation marks, as seemed right. A squall of vomitous noise which reveals a kernel of really great pop hooks, which are themselves immediately swiped away and destabilised. “Can we make something beautiful with no hope?” Yes – what it can’t do is last.

DARREN CRISS – “Walk Of Shame”: McCartney-esque melancholy from someone I know nothing about (was he on TV?) – got a bit of a rough reception in the comments, not wholly deserved I think, as trad songs go this is a good one, you can imagine Bruno Mars enjoying himself with it.

DEYAH – “Shoreditch”: The beat is delightfully crisp, the arrangement is full of lovely touches, the delivery – I dunno, it’s very theatrical in ways I can feel sowing the seeds of deep irritation in later rounds. 

Qualifier 17

MDOU MOCTAR – “Afrique Victime”: Takes a little while to lift off but once it does, wham! The most unashamedly hard-rockin’ track to get poll support in a while (well, OK, since Guns N Roses last month). Galloping, elemental music.

SAULT – “Light’s In Your Hands”: Finalists in the 2020 poll, out in the qualifiers here – SAULT’s principled stand on an ephemeral streaming presence may have cost them, or it might be that this delicate slowie was too sleepy to have the energising effect they did last year.

SERPENTWITHFEET – “Same Size Shoe”: Speaking of delicate… this is a beautiful song, tender and funny (the trumpet section!) and sincerely loving. Too good for this world, or at least for this poll. 

THE WEATHER STATION – “Parking Lot”: Mac-esque sophistipop whose combination of grand arrangements and subtle vocals is really growing on me, though hasn’t quite broken through the barrier of pleasantness yet.

Qualifier 18

CARCASS – “Dance Of Ixtab (Psychopomp And Circumstance)”: I never really know what to say about metal! It also tends not to stick around long enough for me to either dig deeper or get bored of it. This has the various metal food groups – chunky riffs, growling, solos – all represented and as such I feel most satisfied.

NUBIYAN TWIST ft CHERISE – “Tittle Tattle”: If there’s an issue I have with the welcome uprising of UK jazz acts, it’s the pool of vocalists they work with – there’s a lot of very mannered neo-soul types out there, and Cherise on “Tittle Tattle” is one of them. I’d dig this much more as an instrumental, to be honest.

TOKISCHA, LA PERVERSA, YAILIN LA MAS VIRAL – “Yo No Me Voy Acostar”: I made a conscious effort to funnel more Latin stuff through this year, in the full knowledge that a lot of it would likely get kicked out right away. I’m not literate enough in the various Latin American dance and street styles to tell my dembow from my reggaeton from my brega funk, it all sounds basically reggaeton-based to me. But dry reggaeton beats with hard-ass lady rappers are very much my cup of tea.

ZAKES BANDWINI & KASANGO – “Osama”: This one came right out of leftfield for me – a mix of space disco and South African song, immediate and really uplifting in a way that reminded me a little bit of old 90s faves Trans-Global Underground. A glorious end to a strong day.