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.
Out of Touch in the Wild sees them in fine fettle. Despite the album’s loose theme of “addiction and friendship”, the overall impression remains of a bunch of clever chaps who are able to avoid over-intellectualisation and weave bags of charm and fun into their complex pop songs.
So while you have the non-standard time signatures (Bellio, Threads) and traditional instrumentation (piano, strings) usually indicative of a more cerebral kind of music-making, you also get handclaps (Fester), synths that sparkle (Bellio) or evoke a cheesy 80s sound (Nometo), and the cheery percussion found on Threads and Phaedra.
This approach is best exemplified by Godboy: a track that has a bit of everything that makes Dutch Uncles special, from the quasi-classical violins lending drama to the urgency of the quiet/loud segments, to the counterpoint “ooh – oh” vocals. It’s a detailed and busy blend, but one that entertains at the same time as occasionally confounding.
Duncan Wallis’ vocal might not be to all tastes. A smooth, high-ish instrument, it can lack expressiveness beyond the occasional soulful edge (Flexxin) or angelic choirboy impression (Zug Zwang). It is, perhaps, this element that prevents the band ever quite engaging the emotions in the same way that they so deftly engage the mind and dancefloor-bound feet.
At their best, though, on the aforementioned Godboy or the brilliantly insidious and slinky Nometo, this is a collection that demonstrates how pop music can evolve – indeed, how it is evolving. Where once the choice had to be made between disposable pop fun and beard-stroking academic ‘real’ music, bands such as Dutch Uncles are, happily for all, rendering such a choice unnecessary, permitting us to both have our pop music cake and (oh so intellectually) eat it.
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