The fourth record from British indie band Dutch Uncles is one filled with the fears and uncertainties of anyone in their twenty-somethings – fear of growing old, of being alone, of the unknown – but yet, it’s compressed in such a lovely, retro upbeat package that the despair is brilliantly disguised and presented as euphoria. The subject matter is modern and contemporary, touching on everything from a terrible job interview to the occasional health scare, as well as overbearing themes of sex, narcissism, and obsessions with social media. This occurs despite the 80’s inspired electronic and synth instrumentals, and this inconsistency suits them and their quirky, unusual style rather well.
Opener “Babymaking” is pretty self-explanatory when you look at the title, but it’s not as crude as it leads you to believe. The gentle droplets of melody that open the track pave the way for lead singer Duncan Wallis’ to establish the mature, yet strangely surreal tone of the album. His voice has that sensual, flinty, yet overall odd and unique tinge to his voice, almost like Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe or Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor. It wavers and falters, jumping from note to note in bursts, which suits the nature of the tracks. It’s a gorgeous beginning to the album, and it leads straight into the track “Upsilon,” which is just as fantastical and supersonic as it sounds. It deals with the unnecessary drama of youth as well as the monotony of social media, and the metallic, technological beats that surround the pronounced drumming are added emphasis. Of course, O Shudder wouldn’t be considered a “mature” album if it didn’t address the obvious sexual tension and apprehension that comes with growing older, and a number of tracks on the album directly deal with exactly that. “I Should Have Read” and “Drips” go hand in hand, treating the touchy subject with grace and subtlety, albeit a little too similarly. Unfortunately, this redundancy and repetition is one problem with O Shudder. I noticed that towards the end of the album, the tracks almost seem to blur together- with the exception of more minimal beats or nervous, anxious vocals – and it’s just awkward, considering that it’s also sort of hard to figure out what song you’re actually listening to due to the similar subject matter.
However, the unique tracks on the album stand out, really stand out, and it’s what saves the album immensely. “In and Out” deals with – you guessed it, sexual tension – as well as the constant need for instant gratification in whatever it is that we as people decide to do in our lives. It’s obsessive and almost unsettling at times, but it’s the honesty that makes it admirable and addicting. The swelling instrumentals are focused and fine tuned to Wallis’ voice, and the overall emotion it brings forward is quite extraordinary. The other winner is the track “Decided Knowledge,” a narrative about a job interview gone wrong. It’s here where the comparison to 80’s bands like Tears For Fears and Erasure kicks in, as well as Dutch Uncles’ ability to transform it and bring it into the modern day. Wallis’ takes more risks with his voice stylistically, and it pays off, considering it gives the track a more pronounced personality. This is Dutch Uncles’ greatest strength – giving life to their songs – and O Shudder may very well be album that finally gives them that well-deserved push further into the limelight.
photo by Danny North