No, Trentemøller‘s cover of Neil Young’s “Transformer Man” isn’t his first cover (not at all—he put out a full album of covers, Harbour Boat Trips 01 – Copenhagen, in 2009), but it sure is an interesting choice of Neil Young song to cover. Most folks know Young as the guy behind freewheeling rock hits ranging from all dads’ favorite, “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” to the Kurt Cobain-inspiring and Chromatics-revived “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” Most folks don’t know Young as the guy behind the deranged, vocoder-lined, synth-heavy pop album Trans, which was reviewed terribly upon its 1982 release and and resulted in his own record label essentially suing him for putting out what it thought was a bad album.
It would add up that Trentemøller (the revered Danish artist Anders Trentemøller, whose discography spans well over a decade now) is among the many people who, retrospectively, look back on Trans fondly. He was 10 years old when it came out, and judging from Trentemøller’s extensive electronic output, it’s likely that Trans’ kooky, sideways-sci-fi-score sounds proved more influential to his work than, say, After the Goldrush. It’s thus, in theory, not surprising that he chose “Transformer Man,” of all Neil Young songs, to cover for Harbour Boat Trips 01 – Copenhagen‘s aptly titled, nine-years-later sequel, Harbour Boat Trips 02 – Copenhagen, which is his first release since his 2016 album Fixion.
Except that he’d never heard “Transformer Man” before fellow Danish artist Marie Fisker, who provides the cover’s vocals, showed it to him. As he tells it, “Although I’m a huge Neil Young fan, I actually didn’t know about this song until Marie Fisker played it to me when we sat down and thought about some songs that would be fun to cover for the Harbour Boat Trips Mix I was working on. I wasn’t a fan of the song and its sound in the first place, but the melody, especially the hookline, somehow caught me.”
If he got one thing right, it’s that the original “Transformer Man” doesn’t offer much to listeners in the way of an immediate access point. Not an issue with his cover: From its very first moments of alluring, ambient synth, listeners will know that Trentemøller is about to provide yet another fantastic journey into an abyss of dreary electronic music that’s as brooding as it is tender.
Over little more than occasional pairs of bass notes, crests of blurry synthetic backing, and industrial ping-ponging, Fisker’s singing is as ghastly as it is inviting. More and more pitch-shifting effects swallow her voice as the song progresses and Trentemøller buries it under layer upon layer of further digital bubbling, leading to a climax dictated both by cyborgs and the humanity that drums smashing against low-rumbling synths provide. Even when he’s covering Neil Young’s most robotic music, Trentemøller effortlessly finds a way into listeners’ hearts.