Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Memphis Industrial
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Chamber Pop
Dutch Uncles haven't enjoyed the top 10 success of fellow brainy Manchester electro types Everything Everything, a fact this third album seems to want to remedy. They've kept the unusual time signatures, jerky basslines and Duncan Wallis's Alexis Taylor-like falsetto, which, and the boffiny song titles seem even dafter this time (Zug Zwang, Nometo). However, the production is smoother, with a hint of 80s AOR keyboards and one eye on the pop mainstream.
As we head into 2013, it's interesting to see that a clutch of Manchester bands that are probably desperate not be a considered ‘A Manchester Band’ are releasing new albums. Everything Everything, Delphic and Dutch Uncles have all been developing in the city around the same time, branching in their own directions as they’re allowed to progress at their own pace, without being overburdened by expectation. Sharing bills and releasing singles on local labels before stretching their wings further, all three are now releasing records that they hope will cement the promise shown on their debuts.
Unlike many bands that begin their careers with relatively straightforward fare before gradually becoming more experimental, Manchester’s Dutch Uncles announced themselves to the record buying public back in 2009 with their bewildering array of instrumentation, frequently impenetrable lyrics and penchant for tricksy time signatures already fully formed. While their German-recorded eponymous debut and 2011’s Cadenza hinted at their rich promise, Out Of Touch In The Wild sees Dutch Uncles really come of age with a record of impressive confidence, invention and – for all their undoubted cleverness – accessibility. It’s probably fair to say that your average indie rock group wouldn’t pen a tune named after a scenario in a chess game where the player has no option but to make one specific move (Zug Zwang), yet the song itself is a mesmerising cocktail of irresistible, toe-tapping rhythms and compositional flair that epitomises the five piece’s appeal.
They may not be the most hyped current Manchester band, or the one with the most vocal hometown support, but Dutch Uncles might be the best. Their third album proper, ‘Out Of Touch In The Wild’ sees them evolve into the Field Music you can dance to – or the Talk Talk you can smile to. This is thanks to clinically clean production, a pensive, taut mood that pervades throughout, and about a billion xylophone bongs.
Reading about Dutch Uncles' eclectic influences -- which include Steve Reich, XTC, and Prince -- makes their music seem a lot more eccentric than it actually is, particularly on Out of Touch, In the Wild. The band conceived the album as a studio piece, with arrangements incorporating strings, keyboards, and pianos rather than the guitars that dominated Dutch Uncles and Cadenza. More often than not, the results sound like what might happen if Hot Chip and Field Music had a well-mannered but slightly odd musical baby: Duncan Wallis' crooning tenor glides over songs that change keys and time signatures in the blink of an eye and instrumentation that bounces all over the place, yet is still very much in the pop realm.
Perhaps when the time comes to organize 2013 into neat lists, the year's biggest musical surprise won't be David Bowie's return, or whoever turns out to be this year's Lana Del Rey, but a distinctly unlikely embrace of art rock: Liam Gallagher was on the cover of last week's NME to discuss Beady Eye's second record, which Dave Sitek is producing. "He's a fucking outlaw," Gallagher says. "He's the best producer I've ever worked with, ever.
There are benefits to being slightly out of touch. Except that to avoid the repercussions that arise from getting entirely left behind, many pop acts of the new century have been elevating the level of high art by reconstructing many old-fashioned recording techniques and molding them inside facile, agreeable templates. Manchester quintet Dutch Uncles has always been slightly under the radar, partly attributable to the fact that they’ve been careful not to fall into the trappings of chart pop.
It’s always frustrating when you can clearly hear something good waiting to pop out but it never seems to do so. Dutch Uncles have made this their career direction of choice: their first two albums had moments of promising excellence swimming underneath what were otherwise slightly flawed albums, and rather than build up on that to deliver their masterpiece, their third actually takes a step backwards after the promising build-up. On paper Dutch Uncles sound great with their art rock leanings and Duncan Wallis’ frail yet surprisingly engaging vocals, and in theory Out of Touch, in the Wild should be their crowning moment so far: the sound mixes together elements from the first two albums into a refined concoction, the production is tighter than it has been… and yet the band sound more lost than ever.
‘There’s one song called ‘XO’…and we were like, ‘that sounds like pop’. So we mowed it all together and Duncan piled some lyrics on top of it’, Dutch Uncles’ drummer, Andy Proudfoot, told us when we spoke to him about the band’s first/second album (depending on who you ask), ‘Cadenza’. They take a similar approach on their second/third album (ditto) – they might start simple, sure, but when they’re finished, you’ve got something very, very different, and complicated, and more than a little odd.
It was just three short years ago that Stockport’s Dutch Uncles were being heralded as future pop princes by the sharpest of blogs and the most hopeful of the industry. The fact that they then brought out two albums in relatively swift succession, proving them to be both purposely prickly and enthusiastically obtuse, quelled the nasal voices of those who wished to put them in a convenient box, no matter how pretty and poppy that box may have been. This, their third, album has a feel of coherence and near-uniformity that was missing from the angled lunges of those previous outings, offering a set of ten songs that tease and tenderly manoeuvre around the parameters of prog-pop with some considerable grace and intellect.
A detailed and busy blend, entertaining and occasionally confounding. Jude Clarke 2013 Dutch Uncles are one of a raft of British smart-pop bands that have emerged in recent years (Everything Everything, Field Music, Alt-J, Egyptian Hip Hop). The band are now onto their third album of tricksy, elegant and unpredictable songs; an album whose curious, single-word titled songs (Pondage, Bellio, Godboy, Flexxin) provide an early indication of the distinct character to be found within.
It's hard to categorise Manchester's Dutch Uncles. The Wikipedia user who vaguely tossed them into the “indie rock” bucket certainly didn't cover it. Persistent comparisons to Hot Chip - focussed around Duncan Wallis's sweet-stoic falsetto and Alexis Taylor's always-on-the-verge-of-shattering vocals - also come up short. Dutch Uncles have antecedents in XTC and Peter Gabriel, but that doesn't paint the full picture either.