Dutch Uncles – Out of touch in the wild

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Album opener, ‘Pondage’ is a reminder of Duncan Wallis’ distinctive voice, a verrillon of cut glass falsetto. It is difficult to dismiss the similarities between Wallis’ ghostly vocals and the stylings of Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, both singers and their respective bands producing some of the best Math Rock of recent time.
As with Dutch Uncles’ previous album, Cadenza, the art house guitars and atypical time signatures are present in ‘Pondage’and continue to pervade the album as a whole, along with angular, chopped melodies, akin to contemporary peers Vampire Weekend and clear influences, Talking Heads.

Nonetheless, ‘Pondage’ is an economical and interesting album opener, setting out the band’s stall effectively; harmonies, cut glass vocals, sparing percussion and selective keys are all present and correct.

‘Bellio’, begins with glacial harmonies, building with economical funk/art rock inspired percussion and bass, but the real killer of this track is the hook that appears from the keys around the 55 second mark, which, in this reviewer’s mind, is almost a homage to 80’s coin-op arcade machines and 16 bit computer games. All of which makes the track sound like a gloriously enjoyable art house rock version of arcade classic, Galaga.

Lead single from the album, ‘Fester’, opens with glockenspiel percussion, lyrics are angular and economical, ‘Chills me to the bone, this feeling I own’ warbles Wallis, as synth key changes add a sense of foreboding to proceedings. A sense of underlying gothic sensibilities prowl the nether edges of the single, like the aforementioned Talking Heads asking The Cure’s Robert Smith to add his own signature to affairs. Yet this is not a dark track, as production builds to a rhythmic piano chord melody, which bears to mind early rave culture! Honestly, played against Black Box’s ‘Ride on Time’ the resemblance is striking, but in the most entertaining and least insulting way.

‘Godboy’ is an uplifting, pounding and beautifully produced track (the strings sound desperately compelling), full of slightly French influenced disco electronica tidbits, and Arcade Fire styled melodies, all the while retaining Dutch Uncles’ off kilter time signatures. The mix of strings and electronica give the track a sense of urgency and warmth, and of joyous abandonment during the latter stages of the song.

It’s wonderful and fascinating how ‘Threads’ sounds, upon initial listenings, to Vince DiCola’s soundtrack to the 1985 animated Transformers movie! In particular, the opening minute of ‘Escape’ shares similar time signatures with ‘Threads’. Although it could be argued that this isn’t that surprising, as both band and film share musical DNA, as DiCola worked with “Weird Al” Yankovic in a homage to the art rock Godfathers, Devo. ‘Threads’ is a glorious cacophony of new wave and art rock industrial optimism.

In comparison, ‘Flexxin’ is a beautiful pop song, full of string hooks and lyrical loops, a slightly neurotic and self aware piece of art, but as Wallis states “’Cause when you put it in the dance I see it, you are my plans”, a simple and effective ode to the universal theme of desire and longing, the lyrics continue with poetic chivalry, “you can hold my hand. I feel it, do you understand?” Indeed we do Uncles, and it’s pop sensibilities are perfect in their endearing simplicity.

In chess ‘Zugzwang’ refers to when one player is at a disadvantage, due to having to move a piece even though any move will give the other player an advantage. In Out of touch in the wild, Wallis sings ‘maybe I’m safe, there’s only this way, when I do fall in love, do you?’, reflecting how loves is just as dangerous and complex a game to play. Yet for all of ‘Zug Zwang’s pondering on the merits of chess as a metaphor for relationships, the song is a life affirming and progressive build of percussion, sharp, swooping strings and shuddering, driving piano. Like the mechanisms of the brain attempting to break a code, all elements intertwine to produce a track of atmospherics and seasonal drama, the last echoes of summer being driven out by the encroaching, cool winds of Autumn. The warmth at the core of a very cool and confidence slice of songwriting.

‘Phaedra’ employs a Cello for the bass line drama here, a combination of minor chords and ice cold piano, producing a sense of anxiety and doubt. Given the track is entitled after a Greek Goddess whom committed suicide due to guilt, the lyrics reflect in a similar vein, a half exposed story, “…but you’re holding on, and I’m breathing just, to hope I’m wrong”. Dark, and enigmatic.

Thankfully, after the sombre affair that precedes ‘Nomento’, this track has the most stunning guitar hook this reviewer has been fortunate to listen to for a long enough time! Played with confidence and aplomb by Daniel Spedding, it projects itself as a New Wave interpretation of Chris Rea’s ‘On the beach’! A slick, velvety and funky affair, made all the more interesting through the contrast to Wallis’ fragile vocals, whom sings ‘It’s a hard life, I should have known why…we’ve got a lot of talk and hate to come…we’ve had a lot of fun before it comes along’. An affirming retrospective of a dying relationship, full of mutual respect and self confidence.

Album closer ‘Brio’ is a statement of intent, propulsive rhythmic bass lines, angular guitars and prickly strings all layering upon each other to produce a funky, electro-rock slice of disco, elements of Kate Bush meets Neu! via Wallis producing an impression of The Buggles’ lead singer, Trevor Horne. He warbles through the lyrics, as the divaricate, musical madness jumps around him.

Regardless of whether this album can be classed as ‘pop’ music or not, Out Of Touch In The Wild is definitely compelling and captivating in it’s pop sensibilities, and finds Dutch Uncles undaunted and secure in their own identity. An album full of confidence and packed with strange and alluring ideas, the reflection of lyrics and musical production grows deeper and more complex upon repeat listens, making them all the more satisfying.

Words: Fuzz Caminski

Dutch Uncles Website. Facebook. Soundcloud. Twitter.

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