REVIEW – Denmantau, ‘Strange Love’ (Music, Indie/Rock)

A thoroughly enjoyable EP with memorable songs that’ll leave you wanting more in the best way possible.

Within seconds of hitting ‘play’ the listener is hit with a catchy guitar riff that’ll have them bobbing their head and humming along in no-time, as the band launches into “Tanz der Sterne” (Dance of the stars). This is the first Denmantau song to feature German lyrics, though only in its chorus. Switching abruptly to a language many listeners won’t understand adds to the sense of mystique that comes from the dreamy but textured instrumentation of the song.

A strummed mandolin leads into the next track, Cobblestone, soon joined by a pensive vocal line and a snappy, synthetic drum. The song builds steadily, by the time the chorus rolls around engulfing the listener in soothing instrumentation, perfectly accompanying the vocal melody. The breakdown after the second verse quickly develops a longing, floating quality, evoking images of a road trip at dusk. The only flaw is that the track could have easily been longer, carrying the listener into the sunset.

After a brief prelude, Heart and Stone’s punchy, straightforward bass line effortlessly carries what might be Paul’s most gripping vocal performance of this EP. The instrumentation gradually adds elements, culminating in a sound flirting heavily with stadium-pop by the second half of the chorus. Towards the conclusion of the song, Julian treats the listener to a tasty solo, an instrumental highlight of this release. But this track, too, feels cut short, a recurring thing on this EP. The song ends before it can develop into a dramatic climax like the track “You and Me” from 2017’s “Dark Light”.

The arpeggiated acoustic guitar, courtesy of Jonas, immediately draws the listener into the heart-tugging ballad more than deserves to be the title track. Stefan’s melodic bass line adds interest to the sparse instrumentation and the soothing string arrangement effectively avoids sounding cheesy. It also contrasts wonderfully with the dramatic, double tracked lead vocal, illustrating the excellent production. Strange Love also treats us to Paul’s mesmerising trumpet playing, which was more present on previous releases. The simple but captivating melodies are executed effortlessly, mingling with the bass line one moment and going their own way the next, and go straight to the soul.

The most uptempo track, Freedom, stands out a bit stylistically, but does serve to highlight the variety of musical influences in Denmantau’s sound. A driving, synth-like bass sound is layered with distorted and compressed guitars, topped off with a dramatic vocal melody. The song is seeped in influence from turn-of-the-century bands such as grunge legends Nine Inch Nails, without ever copying their sound.

The closing track “Harmonium” features spoken word over an instrumental tapestry, fittingly using its titular musical instrument. The sparse, but effective guitar licks in the first half at times borrow from Dave Gilmour’s work on Shine On You Crazy Diamond, both in tone and in style. Meanwhile the background instrumentation builds to musical soundscape that evokes the soundtrack of cult classic Labyrinth. In the spoken word Paul spreads a message of unifying through music, regardless of race or gender. And while by no means disingenuous, the delivery feels a bit unnatural. This comes as a surprise as Paul proves himself a natural speaker during live shows, routinely evening out gaps between songs with anecdotes and crowd interaction. The song would have been at least as interesting as an extended instrumental overture, closing the album.

Denmantau once again delivers a set of memorable songs, but as production improves with each subsequent release some of the characteristic raw energy of the band’s early work and live shows gets lost. Compared to earlier releases the songs also feel more introspective and arguably muted, though this could be attributed to the material having been written primarily during the Covid-19 pandemic. The resulting sound caresses the ears more but is less attention grabbing than the rest of the band’s excellent back catalogue. In a live setting, however, the songs will no doubt get the raw edge and extended performances that they deserve.

Ultimately it is a thoroughly enjoyable EP that has the potential to expand Denmantau’s fan base and leaves you wanting more in the best way possible.

Denmantau is currently on tour and “Strange Love” is slated for an autumn release.

Text: IJsbrand van Lambalgen
Photo: Abraham Morales (CC BY-NC 2.0)