Review by Chris Nickson
Sometimes it can be better to accept and not examine things too deeply. Let it flow and enjoy it. Take Tranquebar’s music. In many ways, what the Danish band creates shouldn’t work. The mix of banjo, voice, accordion, and percussion is beautifully ramshackle (at least on the surface). Yet it succeeds, and it does it in a fashion that’s quite mesmerizing. Ø is actually a collection of four EPs, each recorded on a different Danish island (hence the title, as Ø means island). And each island exerts a subtle influence on the shading of the music. The first cuts, from Sejerø, are the most nautical, with a hearty shanty rhythm that percolates underneath, and reaches the surface on “Joy.”
Here, and with every track on the album, the band show the magic they have and how they knock it all into shape: not only can they write a good tune that takes unexpected turns but they create the kind of chorus that sticks in the brain (at its core, this is essentially acoustic, folky pop music of a very twisted sort), and they can also arrange with wonderful imagination. Layers of vocals on “Tigers In Spain,” for instance, or using dobro and percussive cast iron stove for the rhythm behind a track.
The three tracks made on Endelave have a different mood, with a brooding darkness that works well as part of their style, like French chanson dragged through a few of Dante’s circles of hell and documented by Leonard Cohen. The standout, and one of the best tracks on the whole disc, is “Contender,” insistent and nagging, opening up into a chorus that’s even more shadowed than the verse, with backing vocals from a chorus of galley slaves.
Moving on to the recordings from Fejø, and singer Grit Jansen starts channelling Patti Smith on “Birdmaster,” where wooden flute and bird feet percussion (yes, really) let the singer fly – it’s all very disturbing in a low-key way that stays in the mind long after the song is done. Quoth the raven, plenty more.
"Angels Share" (excerpt)
Ø is a cornucopia of curious joys – bizarre as it seems, “Angels Share” manages to sound like a New Orleans brass band cast adrift and heading round the Skaggerak into the Baltic Sea and still makes perfect sense. However, not everything works so completely. A little judicious pruning and a shorter running time would have increased the impact of this CD. That said, even the average tracks here are stranger and outmuscle so much of what’s released today that Tranquebar definitely stand above the herd. Even when they aspire to soft and straightforward, as they do on the closer, “The Shed,” with just voice and concertina recorded in a single take, there’s still something sweetly off-kilter in the performance.
"The Shed" (excerpt)
What they’ve created is utterly original, insidious, subversive – and yes, highly addictive. It shouldn’t work, yet it does. If you’re not convinced yet, consider this: where else will you find a Masai cow horn imitating a herd of elephants? – Chris Nickson