First Listen Review attempts to capture my first impressions of the year’s Eurovision entries as and when they’re released. My opinion is liable to change as certain songs grow on me or get revamped, but based on the principle that most listeners will only hear each entry once (or twice) before voting, hopefully it’ll provide some insight. 

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FYR Macedonia: Daniel Kajmakoski – Autumn Leaves

Daniel Kajmakoski - Autumn Leaves | Eurovision 2015 Macedonia

Daniel Kajmakoski appeared as a backing vocalist for Tijana last year in Copenhagen. He lived in Vienna with his family as a child before returning to Macedonia to pursue his career.

Macedonia’s biggest problem at Eurovision could be summed up in a single word – crossover. Their entries often do well among their Balkan neighbours, but a close examination of their scores over the years show that points from countries North-West of Switzerland have been practically nonexistent.

This reliance on friendly voting has done them no favours since the semi finals were split in two – they’ve only qualified once since 2008, when Kaliopi slipped through a very Balkan-heavy semi. It also gives Macedonia a slightly unfair reputation as one of Eurovision’s ‘rubbish’ countries. In fact, a lot of their entries have been pretty good – they’ve simply lacked an accessibility factor for Western ears.

Performed in full English and co-produced by a Swede, ‘Autumn Leaves‘ seems to be an attempt to address this problem. When Daniel Kajmakoski won X Factor Adria – broadcast across the former Yugoslav states – last year, one of the songs he sang in the grand final was ‘Red‘ by Daniel Merriweather, and the Australian singer’s soulful approach is clearly a strong influence on this mournful but musically rich ballad.

There’s a lot to like about this entry. Kajmakoski delivers a heartfelt, soulful performance and the song has a sense of musical progression that’s only slightly undermined by a rather abrupt finish. It’s classy, well-written and certainly a lot more accessible than the head-scratching combination of Balkan balladry, dubstep and Romani throat singing Macedonia fielded in 2013.

My concern with this song is that like Tijana last year, in attempting to appeal to a broader audience, Macedonia may have made themselves a little bit too anonymous to stand out from the crowd. On the whole, this kind of ballad is an easier sell than a run-of-the-mill eurodance track like To The Sky, but it faces a lot of competition this year. A powerful stage presentation could give this an edge, but Macedonia have a tendency to over-complicate this element of things to the detriment of their entries. If they can utilise the sweet hand-drawn love story from the promo video, they could stand out. Failing that, they’d be best advised to strip it all back and give Kajmakoski the opportunity to sell it for all it’s worth.

It’d be a shame to see Macedonia miss the finals again, as they’ve done a lot right with this. At the moment it’s an entry that falls squarely into the middle of the pack – and right now that’s a worryingly crowded field.