Out Of Touch In The Wild
, January 18th, 2013 07:50
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. A dutch uncle, you might be interested to learn, is a person who seeks to educate but does so in the harshest of terms, and a clue to the group's distinctive sound seems to lie in their choice of name. Looking beyond the voices and the up-front synths, for example, there's a lot more aggression to their music than Hot Chip's electronic pop. This has more in common with Slint or Tortoise, driven relentlessly forward by spiky, shifting percussive rhythms and stammering, agitated staccato guitars.
Opener 'Pondage' sets the tone for an album founded on tension, its eerie bells and plucked guitar polyrhythmic guitar lines providing a haunting preface to a journey that is, when it works, as unnerving as it is catchy. 'Bellio' is a blistering marriage of new wave and math rock that tells the tale of a sexual encounter. It's all muscle and perspiration, and if you've ever woken up delirious and unfulfilled from a dream about a James Murphy and Battles collaboration then you're in luck.
Lead single and hands-down stand-out track 'Fester' is a disco-infused nod to DFA with ghostly synths floating through an intense battle of pianos, marimbas and handclaps. It's the closest Wallis and co have come to four-to-the-floor dance music and it sounds superb. Other highlights are the ominous rhythms of 'Threads' and the Spiritualized-esque space-rock of 'Nometo'.
Standards aren't always as high, however, and the second half of the album is blighted by a lack of variation. 'Flexxin', for example, is a mawkish, paint by numbers pop workout. Their first single of 2013, it seems to suffer from having a wandering eye on the commercial success that has eluded the group so far. It's hard to point the finger of blame at a band that haven't broken into the UK mainstream since their 2009 debut, but with its sunny violins and banal, generic love song lyrics (“You can hold my hand / I feel it, we understand.”) it will be nauseating for anything other than the casual ear. If the goal was simply not to offend, then 'Flexxin' does the job, and it's easy to imagine it providing the soundtrack to the BBC's Best Of Wimbledon montage come June. Similarly, 'Brio' and 'Zug Zwang' are too sweet, their Jeff Lynne string sections grating more with each listen.
Nevertheless, Out Of Touch represents a steady evolution of a band, and while you sense they've still not made a truly great album, the Uncles pack a sturdy punch on their most focused album yet.