Release Date: Feb 24, 2015
Record label: Memphis Industries
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Dutch Uncles continue the sweetening of their sound that began with Out of Touch in the Wild with O Shudder, a set of songs revolving around a twenty-something everyman having a pre-life crisis. As the band juggles inspirations ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Ian Dury, they could seem too cerebral for their own good, but the album's concept allows them to balance their intricate, wide-ranging musicianship with newfound emotional directness. As the protagonist encounters -- and is sometimes paralyzed by -- love, work, and health issues, O Shudder plays to Dutch Uncles' strengths: Duncan Wallis' detached, shivery tenor and the band's rubbery sound capture a life in flux, most literally on "Upsilon," where the Greek letter in the song's title marks a fork in the road and choices that must be made.
‘O Shudder’ is the sound of a band ensnared in a late-twenties crisis, fretting about a future of family-planning, job-hunting and “settling down”. Thematically oppressive, you might think, but all this semi-autobiographical talk of adulthood makes for Dutch Uncles’ most direct and user-friendly album yet. 2015 could be the year the band break out.
Few relatively obscure indie pop bands can claim to be the subject of cliché; you get the sense though that Dutch Uncles take a sense of pride in not being quite like other bands. After all, Dutch Uncles are smarter than you and me (well, smarter than you anyway; I’m a fucking genius). When I spoke to the band earlier this year I asked them if they wanted to shed the labels of being 'math rock' or 'prog pop'.
Manchester’s Dutch Uncles allow the angst of adolescence to seep through to the “right side of 25” on an album preoccupied with sex, social media and self-prescribed health checks. Articulating the innermost thoughts of its suburban male protagonist, Duncan Wallis’s nervous, fluttering falsetto is backed by graceful orchestration and delicately plucked minimalism, finding surreal beauty amid the awkwardness. Although their previous albums were rich in angular indie, this fourth sees the best realisation of their ambitions yet: there’s an alien romance to the Kate Bush-borrowing Babymaking; single In N Out lists sexual intentions with a disgusted fascination; Decided Knowledge has a Tears for Fears-style pomp; and Drips is built around the call and response of two oboes, which proves surprisingly mellifluous.
Something strange happened to Dutch Uncles after the release of 2013’s coming-of-age album ‘Out Of Touch In The Wild’: they received the patronage of emo-pop powerhouse Paramore, who took them out on a huge European tour and – in theory – introduced them to legions of potential new fans. For a band whose elegant, uplifting pop – think Field Music crossed with Prince – has been cruelly overlooked for far too long, this was definitely the makings of a ‘big break’. So, depending on your standpoint as regards selling out and cashing in, you’ll either be baffled or delighted to discover that they’ve adjusted their modus operandi not one jot on the follow-up, ‘O Shudder’.
Almost as soon as they emerged on to the Manchester scene back in 2010, Dutch Uncles carved a very defined niche into the British independent music world. This came at a time when the U.K. music scene didn't really know where it stood; the noughties' indie heyday had long since fizzled into nothingness (save the appearance of a new Arctic Monkeys record every couple of years), while dubstep tightened its ketamine-fuelled grip on the mainstream.
For a brief period in the ‘80s, musical minimalism was as much a touchstone for new wave artists as early post-punk originators and modern pop stars, and while the style resulted in some of the era’s most indelible and inventive music (Talking Heads, for one), it didn’t last. Don’t tell that to English art rock band Dutch Uncles, though. Time signature experiments, repetitious and complex xylophone and marimba riffs, dance beats, funky basslines, and vocalist Duncan Wallis’ swooping croon were the defining elements of Dutch Uncles’ first three albums, and not much has changed on their latest, O Shudder.
In 2013, after the release of their third LP Out of Touch in the Wild, Dutch Uncles were plucked from the indie playground to join Paramore’s European stadium tour. Hard-earned though the break was, the quintet seemed an arbitrary pick. Over the last half-decade, northern England has reared a sharp and brainy brood of art-pop omnivores, but Dutch Uncles err on the vegetarian side: They’re sleek, but Wild Beasts are sleeker; they tweak Field Music’s oddball bombast without revamping it; and they tap into a weirdo-pop accessibility that’s neither as weird nor accessible as Everything Everything’s.
Out Of Touch In The Wild, Dutch Uncles’ 2013 album, was one of that year’s highlights: a complex yet accessible work bearing the same gift for melody and mild eccentricity as their fellow English contemporaries Hot Chip, Wild Beasts, Field Music and Metronomy. Now here comes the follow-up, O Shudder. Dutch Uncles haven’t needlessly fiddled about with their sound: the band still tightly weaves together drums, piano, woodwind and tastefully-restrained guitar, while singer Duncan Wallis still sounds a lot like Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.
Ever flip through your Facebook News Feed and feel bogged down by the endless stream of various adulthood milestones? Like if you see one more pregnancy/new job/new house/unemployment/divorce announcement you’ll just burst? Dutch Uncles’ latest, O Shudder, digs into all these topics with steely precision and the clinical detachment of a scientist observing from afar. Blame the Manchester quintet’s addled time signatures and art rock leanings for the cold shoulder treatment, but this isn’t a group concerned with exploring the well-documented plight of twentysomethings in a warm and fuzzy manner. Despite a six-year history, Dutch Uncles officially cemented their worth with the idiosyncratic Out of Touch in the Wild in 2013, followed by a game-changing supporting slot on Paramore’s jaunt across Europe.
At some point in the 1960s popular music began to fold in on itself, its creators separated broadly into two camps; those that made music they loved, and those that studied music they liked and learned how to recreate it. As this separation occurred, issues of legitimacy and creative motivation were introduced to conversations that once talked only of sound and style, bringing with them elements of doubt and distrust. The change of emphasis towards what was perceived as authenticity meant that musicians, commentators and fans began to define themselves by their differences.