Choosing an Estonian song of the year was never going to be an easy task. The fact that the Estonian music scene is so broad and varied only adds further to this complication. So in order to spare some of the agony (or risk alienating half of our readers), we’ve decided not to opt for one “song of the year”, but have asked our regular contributors to name theirs. Therefore our list below, in no particular order, will hopefully contain something for everyone.
Liisi Koikson, “I’m the only one” – Birgit Drenkhan (Tallinn)
This year’s find and surprise for me was Liisi Koikson’s song “I’m the only one”. Koikson, with an angel-like voice, has always performed beautiful instrumental ballads. But this time she came out with a slightly different style – electronic. It is amazing how skillfully she mixes soulless electronics with her tender and thoughtful voice. The result is marvelous! But as she herself mentions, it is just a little experiment. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!
Iiris, “Sapphire” – Stuart Garlick (Tallinn)
Not the lead single off Iiris Vesik’s “Chinaberry Girl” EP, but the biggest sign that this 22 year-old Estonian vocalist is her own boss and won’t be subscribing to the local “release a bland ballad for Eurovision” template any time soon. The production, indeed, owes more to the inspiration of the likes of Timbaland than any Baltic producers.
“Sapphire” begins with a lo-fi machine loop and Iiris rapping in monotone, before the bridge kicks things up a gear, and the chorus goes into a full-on reverb-heavy, multi-vocal-tracked, dreamscape. After a couple of minutes of this progression, the record surprises by breaking everything down, and going into a bonkers interlude of distorted guitar and cats’ mews. Pop music is meant to surprise us, meant to give our brains that cheeky nudge, and if you don’t agree with this, well, Celine Dion is still releasing records.
The impressive thing is the mix of light and shade, and the way Iiris and her producers resisted the temptation to overproduce, instead coming up with a westward-looking song that could sit comfortably in a playlist with a track from Iiris’s recent favourite album, Kanye West’s “Yeezus”.
Kadri Voorand, “Don’t marry the lofty” – Adam Garrie (London)
Composer and vocalist Kadri Voorand is one of Estonia’s internationally recognised talents. She has recently recorded several original compositions with a band featuring Joel Remmel on piano, Mihkel Mälgand and, from Finland, Pauli Lyytinen on sax along with drummer Ville Pynssi. Her 2013 track ‘Don’t Marry The Lofty’ combines contemporary jazz improvisation with melodies borrowed from traditional Estonian folk music. The fusion of jazz, the world’s most international style of music with distinctly Estonian themes is a breath of fresh air.
Winny Puhh, “Meiecundimees üks Korsakov läks eile Lätti” – Peeter Kormašov (Berlin)
Live concerts of Winny Puhh are crack-brained and out of control. It’s a melting point of raw energy, inappropirate behavior, funny lyrics and twisted humor. You never know what kind of weird costumes the band will wear this time. Or will they wear any clothes at all, for that matter. Will furry animals be handed out to the audience? Will one of the members of Winny Puhh turn into a “loose cannon“ and throw himself off the stage? And the moshpit is just total chaos!
This song competed to present Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest 2013, but was not chosen. The totally unforgettable live-show gained still conciderable popularity around the Internet and was chosen to perform at Rick Owens fashion show in Paris. Anyone, who wants to see crazy estonian guys hanging upside down while giving an awesome performance should see this.
Keeris, “Öö ja päev” – Kris Lillemets (New York)
2013 saw the birth of Frotee – a boutique record label whose archaeological niche is digging up and dusting off undiscovered gems from recent Estonian history ranging from disco, soul and reggae to psychedelic pop and everything else. During the Soviet regime many fascinating artists influenced by western music never got the coverage they deserved and can to this day be unknown to most Estonians.
Keeris was an 80s pop group from the coastal resort town of Pärnu, who only released one four-song EP during their decade-long career. “Öö ja päev” (“Day and night”) did not make it to the record and was released on a 7” vinyl by Frotee this year.
While submitting something recorded in 1982 as a 2013 favourite is technically cheating, you will let me get away with it. Whether your definition of nostalgia is Uno Loop or Vanilla Ninja, the honey-smooth mellow goodness packed in this track is guaranteed to get you, soothe your sore throat, fix your marriage, and make you forget about that complaint form you were going to send to us between repeats no. 6 and 7.
Dahling, “Swept” – Kadri Paris (Brussels)
I have to be honest here. I haven’t been listening to that much new Estonian music this year. The busy music scene in Brussels provides me with plenty of discoveries and only a few new Estonian songs and albums reach my ears without specifically seeking it. One of those is Dahling with their album “Left”. As this group consists of friends of my friends, I suddenly started to notice Facebook discussions and concert invitations. I was especially pleased to find their album on Spotify. Even though it is a new album, it has a certain flair of nostalgia for me. It somehow takes me back to my hometown, Tartu, its lyrics resonate with my university years and I am suddenly 15 years (my god!) younger again.
Kõrsikud, “Mälestus” – Triin Pehk (Sydney)
This song touched the chords of my soul, like Estonians would say. It simply ticks many boxes for me. For starters – while living abroad I have a newfound appreciation for clearly pronounced words in the beautiful and correct Estonian language. I am also a sucker for punishment and I love drama, especially the aspects of human suffering (mainly in the arts, less so in my own life). “Mälestus” is a simple and a deep song. It tells the story of a relationship and I love hearing stories. I also enjoyed the background of the folk-sounding instruments to which the story unravels.
To hear Evelin Võigemast’s voice before the song saying: “Trust love even when it brings pain, do not close your heart up” is unusual. But I find it a welcome reminder for us Estonians – not the most loving and warm people on the planet – I would say. Although “Mälestus” is a sad tale of a person and a relationship forever lost, it is a delicate and introspective one that simply makes me want to be a better person for my loved ones.
Ewert and the Two Dragons, “Stranger” – Tania Pisa (Toronto)
My nomination for the best Estonian song of 2013 has to be “Stranger” by Ewert and the Two Dragons. Ever since their album, Good Man Down, hit the North American scene, those in the know and with excellent taste in music have been crediting them as one of the best indie bands to emerge from Europe in the last few years. Their 2012 North by Northeast show in Toronto, Canada, sold out and created many new fans for the band. They won the 2013 European Border Breakers Award and were honoured as the best new act in Europe. Stranger has not yet been released on any album, but the band played this song on their 2013 European and North American tour, indicating that it will be on their new album, which is due next year. The song evokes the same indie folk-rock tones that the band have become known for and demonstrates both their talent as musicians, as well as exceptional live performers. It can be heard on any of the live recorded shows on YouTube, and will most likely be a hit on their next album.
Kõrsikud, “Suuda öelda ei” – Regina Sirendi (London)
The song was initially submitted as one of the entries at the “Eesti Laul 2013” competition. Although not chosen as the winner (and hence did not go on to represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest), it was critically acclaimed and well-received by the audiences.
The trio, Andrus “Bonzo” Albrecht, Alari “Päss” Piispea and Jaan “Orelipoiss” Pehk – Kõrsikud – is known in the Estonian music scene both separately and together. They are distinctive for their feel-good lyrics and soft and embracing sounds. “Suuda öelda ei” is only one of their many songs that, by uplifting story-telling, create that happy feeling. No wonder I had such difficulty choosing my favourite one from their repertoire!
Zebra Island, “Everything Might” – Silver Tambur (London)
For me, it would have to be Zebra Island’s “Everything Might”, from their debut album, Saturnine. It has featured on my Spotify monthly playlist…well, since March. As an avid fan of electronic music, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across to them in spring. Sure, Zebra Island does not exactly set the world on fire – bands like M83 from France and School of Seven Bells from the US have been doing this kind of dreamy, ambient electronic pop for years – but Zebra Island’s sensuous and imaginary pop soundscape offers an alternative in an otherwise mainstream scene. In fact, when I sent this song without introduction to one of my Estonian friends recently, she didn’t realise that it was an Estonian band at all. The lush and atmospheric synthesizer intro, throbbing beats and low-key, New Order-esque guitar, combined with the singer Helena Risti’s alluring vocal is the winning combination for me.
HU?, “Made in China” – Reelika Virunurm (Tallinn)
HU?´s track “Made in China” is the second single from their LP “Bermuda”. HU? consists of Hannaliisa Uusmaa, Leslie da Bass and Critikal.
I like the electronic beats and the catchy tune that can easily haunt me for the rest of the day, just like her previous songs “Absoluutselt” and “Depressiivsed Eesti väikelinnad”. The lyrics criticise consumerism and cheap objects. They’re not as sharp and funny as some of her previous work, but I especially like the sentence “kõik meie vahel on made in China” (“everything between us is made in China”), referring to the cheapness of relationships. Upbeat, catchy and with HU?’s typical funky lyrics.
Mari Pokinen, “Loll” – Katrin Winter (Xi’an)
While listening to some Tartu TED talks on YouTube there was one by Mari Pokinen, who mostly sang her songs and expressed some thoughts. I was very impressed by the simplicity of her beautiful music and how down to earth she seemed on the stage and in her thoughts. Her voice is beautiful, her lyrics relatable and true to life. I especially like her song Loll, meaning stupid in Estonian. The song talks about strong feelings of love, getting hurt, doing things wrong and having highs and lows.
Prepared by Stuart Garlick, Chris Glew, Silver Tambur.