In a dramatic U-turn from my previous blog, I’ve decided to stick to music reviews for now. Expect scrutiny of albums, gigs and festivals for a while, but I can only dream of the day I can afford to go to another gig or festival. So, albums! Greater Manchester band Dutch Uncles, I’ve known a little bit about them for a short amount of time, I immediately fell in love with their unique feeling indie pop. Their self-titled debut and follow up album Cadenza struggled for chart success even with pop nuggets like ‘Jetson’ and ‘Dressage,’ with third record Out of Touch in the Wild reaching 83 in the UK chart after a successful support slot on tour with Wild Beasts. They surprisingly went on tour with Paramore after the record who cited them as an influence, although it’s relatively difficult to hear any similarity, with Dutch Uncles carefully crafted gems like ‘Flexxin’ seeming far superior to anything on Paramore. Two albums and a few singles later I caught up.
Big Balloon, released on February 17th, expands on the weird-pop of 2015’s O Shudder attempting to make something a little more guitar focussed and lyrically relevant, while continuing their poppy, slightly strange post-punk. They leave awkward sex behind and give us insight into austerity, social pressure and paranoia. ‘Same Plane Dream’ gloomily has Britain running out of time, but making a promise to not give up, even when suffering from a broken welfare system caused by a benefit cutting government that actively dislikes the poor. ‘Hiccup’ shows the pressure society puts on a couple, pushing them to breaking point. Lead single ‘Big Balloon’ hits you with jolty guitar and wobbly energy, mirroring a brain unsustainable and foggy on antidepressants. ‘Baskin’ jitters, comfortingly inclusive in its erraticism, excitement and desperate urgency.
‘Oh Yeah’ shoves playful pop in our faces, imploring us to spend what little money we make on experiences, wanting us to appreciate simple things. ‘Streetlight’ similarly shines brightly, guiding us through the social darkness with jangly riffs and an appreciation of simplicity. Piano led ‘Achameleon’ hypnotically asks individuals to adapt to the changing landscape, but to believe in the strength of their convictions, using them to challenge the unacceptable. ‘Overton’ disguises itself as a ballad, transforming into a final jittery attempt to rouse us against acceptance and inaction. The album certainly seems like a long complaint rather than a call to arms, but the purpose at the heart of it is definitely to have fun. We can dance, sing, get confused in places and nod in agreement in others.
Dutch Uncles play a small role in a narrow sound linked to the broader world of indie-pop. They are the continually underrated cousins of Field Music, the forgotten child, often achieving something greater than their older, less nerdy brothers Phoenix. It seems fitting they have awkwardly stuck to a musical tone they adapted from these contemporaries, one that is now accomplished, but arguably preventing any chance of a true commercial breakthrough. They are close to a creative peak, with sporadic, catchy guitars in the forefront, but some tracks (‘Sink’, ‘Combo Box’) sadly slip into the forgettable. Lyrically, Big Balloon feels more relevant than any of the ambiguous outputs that have come before, Dutch Uncles here suggesting that things are currently a bit shit, but we can crack the Overton Window whilst rebelliously bopping along to their bouncy tunes which keep us “lit at the root.” This won’t reach the dizzy heights of popularity it deserves, but the four-piece have certainly logged a more loaded, but highly entertaining entry into their archive.
Listen: Oh Yeah, Same Plane Dream, Overton