Throughout the ongoing narrative of popular music, the world has been presented with an array of incredibly eccentric minority groups, who have used the expressive confinements of the arts and music to catalyse their social factions towards others, resulting in the manifestation of larger eccentric cultures, sub-cultures and counter cultures. However, as of late, one could argue, that eccentric and/or alternative scenes most noticeable within both social and mainstream media have somewhat taken a back seat to be replaced by a more socially accepted eccentricism with beards, tattoos and cats taking to the podium. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with beards, tattoos and cats, however, as with many recent music releases, society and music seems to be a little mundane and samey at the moment. However, on hearing the new Dutch Uncles album ‘O Shudder’ released on Memphis Industries, it was safe to say that my faith in eccentric music had returned for the time being.
If you are unfamiliar with Dutch Uncles then where have you been, and what have you been listening too? Actually, to be honest, they are one of those bands that seem to slip through the net, therefore, avoiding a lot of mainstream attention, this, one could argue is due to the media in brief, not being able to pigeonhole them into a suitable marketing bracket. In my opinion, it is often this pigeonholing that refuses amazing alternative bands reaching our eager music loving ears. This said, Dutch Uncles have persevered and broke through the tight restraints of genre categorising and have become a well-respected band gaining a solid core of fans.
Dutch Uncles are one of the most creative, eccentric, interesting and musically gifted bands in the UK. Their sound can be described as an odd amalgamation of very accessible and digestible song writing with an incredible knack for composing odd time signatures, bizarre melody lines, and eccentric vocal styles which when stirred up in the composition cauldron produces an awesome end result. I suppose you could define them as being the Math Rock band of the Indie/Alternative scene, however, they are far more than that.
O Shudder is the bands fourth studio album, which was released on the 23rd February 2015 via Memphis Industries and features the two singles ‘In and Out’ and ‘Decided Knowledge’. The first song ‘Babymaking’ is a great opening number with a subtle orchestration of synthesisers, strings, xylophone and piano, rested on top of a very 80s bass and drum kit sound not too dissimilar from Paul Young’s 1983 classic ‘Come Back and Stay’. The track is a slow-paced piece with a great underlying groove emphasised by the bands signature timing oddities with a vocal melody and style equally as unusual, however, greatly pleasing. In fact, the albums production is somewhat a salute to the digitised sounds of the 1980s. The production values are audibly familiar, yet within the present day, very current.
‘Babymaking’ leads into the awesome ‘Upsilon’. The start of the song is very Kraftwerkesque in nature. Compressed drums derivative of the first drum machines, with an equally primitive synth provides the melody whilst lead singer Duncan Wallis’s musical capacity enables him to compose a vocal melody so perfect for the song in mind. To compose melody and lyrics that stand out above an already very dynamic and sometimes complex arrangement, whilst being accessible, yet unique, is quite the feat of imagination. The track evolves into an upbeat, intense monster, focused around a revolving subtle riff layered by backing vocals, more synths, guitars and plenty reverb, if anything, it is pretty epic by the end.
Track four and six on the album, ‘Decided Knowledge’ and ‘In N Out’ are both singles taken from this album. Decided Knowledge is probably the oddest song on the album. I struggled with the song at the start but the more I listened, the more I liked. It is a very complex song in terms of arrangement, timings and orchestration, (there is a lot going on) but, unsurprisingly, Wallis et al have been able to create a very accessible, enjoyable and dance floor friendly track. The song features a very prominent drum kit, with use of roto-toms that adds extra percussion, think Phil Collins era Genesis, (however, he used concert toms; similar sound) and a flat sounding snare drum that reminds me bizarrely of the tea toweled draped drum kit of Ringo Starr in The Beatles track ‘Come Together’. Imagine the early 80s ceramic electric drum kits and the bands that they ware associated with, and you have the sound. This 80s drum sound alongside distorted synthesiser a bass guitar with subtle phase effects and a clean guitar shimmering in chorus, which would not surprise me if it came from the legendary Roland Jazz Chorus guitar amp, creates an amazing sound suited to an equally great stand out track.
‘In N Out’ the first single off the album, and track number 6, is a smooth, sultry number, built again on a foundation of joyous groove and features one of my favourite musical attributes, great pace. Following on from the 80s theme, this track features a plethora of iconic synthesisers and a bass line that Alan Partridge would be more than happy to air bass too. In terms of arrangement, this song features the most simplistic formula, which is why I feel that the track is possibly Dutch Uncles most accessible composition to date.
Track number 9 ‘Accelerate’ evokes memories of watching Top Gun for some reason. The start of the track is naturally quite strange; however, the commencing of the chorus incites an unconscious smooth and sultry head nodding from side to side due to the grooving bass, slightly distorted drums and again iconic reverb soaked synths, which doesn’t stop until the end of the song.
Lastly, track number 12 ‘Be Right Back,’ is by far my favourite track. I have come to the conclusion that a song around the 120bpm mark has the ability to evoke a multitude of musical nuances. It seems that this speed provides the right conditions for artist to develop groove, dynamics and musicianship thoroughly. Be Right Back is predominately bass led, in fact, the song is somewhat a showcase for the bass player Robin Richards, who coincidentally is one of the key songwriters within Dutch Uncles therefore a leader in himself. The beginning of the track is rather minimal, consisting of bass, drums a little keys and vocals. This eventually leads into what can only be described as magnum opus. It is a truly fantastic demonstration of everything that is good about Dutch Uncles, and an exciting end to a fantastic album.
In summary, I have no faults with this album. It is a flawless, well-produced and ultimately different. Dutch Uncles have delivered an articulate album that abides by the Dutch Uncles ways but provides accessibility to new listeners. This sentiment is something that I would not have considered if reviewing their earlier material; however, they are, regardless of their new album, a fantastic, interesting, entertaining band who I hope have the ability to carry on creating such music within relatively mundane times.
Words by Tom Kitchen.