Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

Banana Boat



February 19, 2016

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 2.7
1 Moby Dick 3.7
2 Stavanger 4.3
3 Z Oceanem Sam Na Sam 3.0
4 Giżycko 3.3
5 Wachta Wśród Gwiazd 3.0
6 Ze Sztormu W Sztorm 3.3

Recorded 2015
Total time: 24:00, 6 songs

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Moby Dick 3
2 Stavanger 4
3 Z Oceanem Sam Na Sam 3
4 Giżycko 3
5 Wachta Wśród Gwiazd 3
6 Ze Sztormu W Sztorm 3

Poland's Banana Boat proves that sea shanties are nothing if they're not a rousing backdrop for adventure. Sung with wild enthusiasm for the open water, and driven by the strong rhythmic accents of Slavic consonant clusters that make everything punchy and crisp with rrrrrolls like the ocean, AQUAREAL is a delight. The problem holding Banana Boat back from wild critical success stems from the repetitive nature of traditional sea shanties. The solution, however, is up for grabs whenever the group's composers desire. 

To enrich your understanding of Banana Boat, I direct you to RARB's first review of this group, for the 2004 release A morze tak, a moze nie... Here, three RARB reviewers encounter this "sub-sub-genre" for the first time, making sense of it for the rest of us with a thoughtful primer. Twelve years later, little has changed in the form and presentation of these sea shanties: simple but well-sung working songs, focused more on entertainment and the back-and-forth tempo of the sea than difficulty or nuance. 

You might be thinking: the most surprising aspect is that they haven't run out of Slavic sea shanties to record. But wait! These are original works, with music and lyrics from the group members, therefore creating a new sub-sub-sub-genre! Moby Dick opens with the sounds of a storm at sea before transitioning to the song, quickly demonstrating Banana Boat's signature sound, which is hyper-locked, super rung chords like a tight barbershop group. Stavanger is the album's standout: it's just rollicking fun, overflowing with spirit. It's in the remaining tracks that we're hit especially hard with the repetitiveness of the sea shanty form, most especially on the closer Ze Sztormu W Sztorm — and the closer is precisely where you want to leave a lasting, "Oh please sing me another tune!" impact. But as I said, the solution here is apparent: since Banana Boat is truly singing in a genre of its own, why not take more creative liberties while still paying homage to the music's roots? These songs could work as movement-based compositions, with layers and bridges and surprises. And as fun as all of the chest-out shouting is to hear, it's okay to startle us with more quiet moments, too; some delicate beauty to appreciate, a place to grow from before the booming melodies. Sometimes the seas are calm, after all.

For AQUAREAL, the group emailed the following note with its submission: "This time we have chosen to steer completely clear of the 'classical' traditional sea-shanty. The EP is entirely ours, representing what we like to call the 'neo-shanty': a poetic sea song that, indeed, remains 'genetically' related to the traditional work song, but has been written solely for the purpose of entertainment." I hear the entertainment value, and you will, too. But what we've received, at least to my ears in this incomparable body of a cappella work, sounds precisely like classical, traditional sea shanties. If that floats your boat, jump aboard this banana's ship!

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Moby Dick 3
2 Stavanger 4
3 Z Oceanem Sam Na Sam 2
4 Giżycko 3
5 Wachta Wśród Gwiazd 2
6 Ze Sztormu W Sztorm 2

AQUAREAL channels the ambiance of a bygone life at sea. It has a steady meter of rocking starboard and port with the waves, with none of the spunk or glitz of a life on shore. The men of Banana Boat are at times jovial with the spirit of camaraderie and adventure, and other times forlorn as the long voyage away from home wears on.

Home for this particular group of seafarers is Poland, and five of the six songs are sung in Polish. The liner notes are provided in English, Polish, and French with the album artwork, but the lyrics are only available in Polish on the Banana Boat website. You can get a sense of what is going on with an online translator, but the poetics of syntax and diction are thrown overboard in the process. Fortunately, the language of rhythm and harmony is easily comprehensible even if you are not well-versed in Polish or sea shanties.

Now for the music. Banana Boat typically performs a mix of traditional folk melodies and originals, but for this album all of the music, arrangements, and lyrics are written in house. So as awesome as it would be to hear an a cappella cover of Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin, this is not it. This Moby Dick sets the boat rocking with a droning "fun day day fun day" that persists throughout the entire song. Does it sound like a shanty sailors would sing to work on the rigging? Aye-aye! Does the monotonous "one and-a two and..." wear down your listening chops after the first verse? Aye...

The simplistic arranging, stagnant dynamics, and woofy bass that start in Moby Dick are there for the entire voyage. Ze Sztormu W Sztorm has a similar energy, Giżycko is a little faster, and Wachta Wśród Gwiaz and Ze Sztormu W Sztorm are a little slower. All are catchy at first, but lose their luster when they don't seem to go anywhere. Stavanger stands out as the one track with real contrast between the verse and chorus. Maybe it's because it's the only song sung in English, but Stavanger is the song that gets stuck in my head and implores me to keep listening to AQUAREAL.

AQUAREAL is a bit more contemplative than your usual collection of shanties. The strength in Banana Boat lies in the group's unique sense of concept. Where else are you going to hear Polish a cappella sea shanties? I like how the soloists sing like they mean it. I like how the crew stays in sync without ever using vocal percussion. I like how the album opens and closes with the sounds of wind and water, so that the entire experience is as cyclical as the life of a sailor. What I like most of all about AQUAREAL is how even though I don't understand most of the words, listening to Banana Boat can make me feel like I'm out at sea.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
1 Moby Dick 5
2 Stavanger 5
3 Z Oceanem Sam Na Sam 4
4 Giżycko 4
5 Wachta Wśród Gwiazd 4
6 Ze Sztormu W Sztorm 5

AQUAREAL is literally a journey. I always like to think of albums as a journey or a story, but this is an album of sea shanties. Since shanties are working songs performed on a sailing vessel, I'm thinking of this as the soundtrack that accompanies a "road trip" montage of vikings. You can tell when the seas are calm, when the storm is brewing, and even the crew's excitement for the unknown. Banana Boat has completely painted the portrait for a sailing adventure, but the novelty of using sea shanties is counteracted by the repetitive nature of sea shanties. The result is a really interesting — although ultimately a bit boring — album.

When focused on the music, I thoroughly enjoy this album. Like most people my age, I've never found myself on a European sailing vessel from the 10th century. However, this album does such a cool job of painting the story. You can tell when the ship leaves in Moby Dick. The crew's excitement is palpable in Stavanger. If the phrase "Land, Ho!" wasn't from a completely different era, I would expect to hear it shouted during Ze Sztormu W Sztorm. The journey is told amazingly well, and I love it. However, I find myself getting a bit bored by the end of the individual songs. The biggest problem with shanties is that they are purposefully repetitive — they are meant to create an internalized rhythm to help the crew with manual labor, and they're easy enough to learn by ear. Perhaps I've been spoiled by music from a millennium later, but I really want a bit more rhythmic variation and chord complexity. However, use of these would sacrifice the integrity of the shanties. It's a tradeoff, and I respect the decision the group made because the integrity of the style is way too cool to interfere with. The music sets a pattern and tempo without the listener really knowing it — every "crew member" becomes locked into the same pattern, almost like a group heartbeat. I highly recommend the experience.

Just when I thought I had a pretty solid grasp of all that was possible and presentable in a cappella, Banana Boat reminded me that the genre is ever-changing. Listen to this album: it's incredibly off the wall and will leave you wondering if we'll ever know what's possible. It will never be an album that will leave you speechless and wanting to analyze every chord and rhythm, but the power of the sea shanties is a force to be reckoned with. AQUAREAL is definitely worth a listen.

How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online album registration form.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

Feel free to email us if you have any questions.


Ordering Information

To purchase this album, visit the group's web site.

  • Apple Music