Can it really be more than a year since the ‘Love and Disaster 1’ EP was released? On that release was a piano-driven number called ‘OCDUC’, by a band I’d never heard of, Dutch Uncles. I didn’t pay them attention until the summer, when at Roskilde I was told to check them out. Upon my return to the States, Dutch Uncles just happened to be playing live for a Huw Stephens BBC Introducing…segment. They sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before and was at a loss on how I was going to describe them to anyone on this side of the Atlantic. Now that I’ve heard more from them, I do concede that people comparing them to Sunderland’s Field Music (jangling piano), XTC (herky-jerky rhythms, lush arrangements), King Crimson (proggy / experimental) and Talking Heads (quirky lyrics) are going in the right direction, but I still think Dutch Uncles (like many of their compatriots in the Manchester area) are still very much their own thing. What is evidently clear from ‘Cadenza’, the band’s second album (first true album being released in the UK), this five-piece from Marple has written and recorded a complex, clever and imaginative work that will hopefully give them the mainstream success they deserve.
Lead singer Duncan Wallis’s voice has a boy next door, emotional yearning that instead of fighting desperately with the math rocky guitar lines, complements the sonic surroundings. This is not easy, considering that often in the process of developing complicated arrangements, vocals get second billing or worse, get lost completely. The title track has been making the rounds on radio, the relentless rhythm of the piano, guitars and drums propelling the track along as Wallis’s voice rises above like a bird surveying the view below. And it’s a good view, indeed. ‘Fragrant’, the song Wallis admitted to me last year as being about incest, will probably have its own fan-devised dance, “hands” included of course, come festival time. There are some questionable moments on this album though: ‘Sting’ reminds me of a cliched ’70s tv theme song. And the punky ‘Dressage’, while it will probably have its own fan following, I don’t particularly care for it; it’s all too much, like too many cooks in the kitchen.
But for me, it’s the second half of ‘Cadenza’ that wows, shining brilliantly like a diamond. In ‘X-O’, Wallis repeats the phrase, “it always takes my breath”, at the chorus with perfectly paired guitars; this marriage can only be described as sweet. The instrumentation in ‘Orval’, which I’m guessing is named after a Belgian Trappist monastery or the beer that is brewed at said monastery, bangs along with 21st century swagger as Wallis’s vocals of wonderment follow along. Xylophones seem to be this year’s banjo, and the twinkly xylophone of ‘The Rub’ is charming, like something you’d hear from a child’s music box. The bass line of ‘The Ink’ should inspire lots of heads bopping at the band’s festival appearances this year. But what I like best in the song are the note progressions noodling round behind the chorus. After a majestic build-up, the unusually-titled ‘Zalo’ concludes likes a whisper in the wind. It’s almost as if this band wants you to believe, after listening to all 11 tracks, that you’ve been in a dream.
Just the mere mention of the term ‘math rock’ can leave some people cold. For years, unusual time signatures were the domain of geeks of the music world, huddled around in basements listening to vinyl with their other geek friends. This Dutch Uncles album should – and will – change people’s minds.
‘Cadenza’ by Dutch Uncles will be released by Memphis Industries on 25 April. The album can be pre-ordered with a special limited edition t-shirt here.