Ten seconds of apparent silence sets the scene on the opening track of Denmark‘s new EP Separations. It’s a small, subtle tension that hints at the way this band will fuck with your ears, and still have you begging for it. You see, it’s not silence – but a low electronic noise that never quite disappears – even as hi-hats and vocalist Thomas Bryce‘s low, haunting musings vie for your attention.
Textures and tones are the wonderfully crafted key behind the lachrymose sound that defines Separations. “Man O’War” punches with a crunchy guitar on the backbeats, smooth but slightly dissonant synths rise and fall like ocean waves, and high guitar melodies use pedal tones to rest under Bryce’s sombre vocals.
Mood changes are but a note away as in the evocative “Calcutta” which flits between energy and melancholy. It takes several listens to truly appreciate the swirling wall of sound – were the vocals removed, you’d still be treated to a vast aural landscape. The last minute of “Calcutta” mirrors the cacophony of “Man O’War” – something is happening everywhere but it’s somehow not messy.
It’s a trick, just like most of the effects in the EP. Take “Warm Bodies” for example. Despite being genuinely disappointed that this song isn’t about a zombie falling in love, it captures you with an upbeat tempo and driving music. Yet the lyrics create an atypical love song, a recurring theme of sadness that Denmark adhere to:
And our warm bodies glow / And our sorrows take hold / And I felt the soul / Disappear and dissolve.
Katherine Gough‘s vocals are a slowly unravelled gift to the listener. Appearing sparsely on “Change In You”, her voice assumes the power as the EP progresses. In the context of Denmark’s sweeping choruses and intimidating build ups, Gough can lay challenge to Hannah Reid of London Grammar. Her first verse in “Love And Morphine” sees her seamlessly pick up the vocals from Bryce.
The same track is also unafraid to play with a true duet. It’s becoming rarer to give equal emphasis to the male and female vocals within a track, and thankfully Denmark don’t shy away from it. “Love and Morphine” eschew the need for a lead – and the resulting equal mix of timbres works incredibly well.
Separations is an EP that is trying to set its identity, a journey that is nearly complete but does need a few more surprises. If an EP is a story and songs are chapters, then all the twists were revealed early. The contrast of Gough’s vocals against Bryce’s; the quirky electronic textures; and the vast, ethereal choruses were exposed in the first two songs, then repeated for the rest. This doesn’t diminish their quality – each track is a well polished entity – but expectations stop being subverted.
Nonetheless, Separations is a meticulous and engaging sonic experience, fulfilling the promise of reward if you just keep on listening – an EP well worth having in your collection. Denmark will be launching Separations with a gig at The Zoo on Thursday March 27. They are joined by Friends Of Ben, Arundel, and My Own Pet Radio. Tickets are $12 at the door.