Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Dutch Uncles - Out Of Touch In The Wild


If you take a second to forget electronic music even exists - in all its far-reaching influence and multitude of sub-genres (yes, hard isn't it?) - the sound of post-millenia British music could be summed up as one of something inviting yet graciously open and accessible. Notably however, in the top western corner of the almighty North/South divide; past the midland rambles and as culturally afield from the capital, we have a roster of bands who by now have established themselves in the underground-treaded commercially-accepted likeability of rock. It may be a different shade to the 80s post-punk reveling or the 90s Britpop domination, but Northern bands in the year 20XY hold as much an argument to be deemed relevant much like the rosters of two, even three decades previous. Bands like Dutch Uncles however thrive on not being part of that expectant list. While they don't necessarily have the economically commercial reaction to back them up, as of late they've slowly made their way up the rungs, as much as they've been continually expanding and defining their sound as what is now this dreamy, slightly baffled, pop rock charisma. Their sophomore release in 2011, 'Cadenza' had as much musical punch to it as how well it catered to the context of performing live. And, for a band not exactly running the headline slot at festivals, the direction they took on it paid off rather well. I'm inclined to look at their follow-up, 'Out Of Touch In The Wild' and feel a sense of stepping-back, because of how refined production-wise it comes across. But in actuality, given how fitting a name the album is, the band's decision to compile their sound in its most richest and refined form, makes itself out to be one of a personal endeavor; one that, like their style of music, can cough up quite a few startled flurries time to time.

So what is it that the band, perhaps, feels is so 'out of touch'? Well, the answer is very little. It appears more paradoxical than what it is, but the sounds emanating from Uncles' third album are one of a pleasantly-surprising and genuine cause for embracing. As if the band really have taken to the more-studio friendly approach with something of an uncertainty and slight anxiousness, opening track Pondage is somewhat hesitant to reveal itself; treading piano keys slowly coming to the forefront, murmuring violins adding to the initial uncertainty. But soon, the jumpy strumming of guitars garner more of a harmonic intricacy with the music. And as the violins begin to build momentum and glockenspiel hits continue that repeated passage in a still hinted conservativeness, the eventual build leads us directly into follow Bellio, which feels a lot more the true opening to Uncles' charismatic liveliness in melody. Vocalist Duncan Wallis sounds slightly less enchanted than previous, but the consistency in the band's stumbling manner gives the track a more realized and substantial tone than previous Uncles listens. The sweep of low-end guitar strings alongside drum beats that are executed more like tumbles than rhythmic rise-and-falls only intensify the somewhat dizzying after-effect that emanates amid the allure of synths and bass in the foreground.

With a track like Fester, the music feels a lot more bare-boned and stripped down to begin, and while vocals tend to feel positioned almost too far afield from the rest of the track, the glow of synthesizers and clatter of wooden percussion allows the chorus shifts to conjure more of a latterly intimate atmosphere. Wallis himself actually becomes more the crucial and, evidently, better suited element to the music because of it. Despite the track's back-and-forth/up-down-up-down joyous fling, it's Wallis that gives the instrumentation's jacked dizziness its much-needed validity. It could be the decision to focus more on the production and engineering side of their sound that ends up bringing to light more clearly how one-footed the instrumentation comes across as. And while it does leave an evident line of risk in having so much empty promise and void in-between, the band still do enough to conjure a sense of fulfilling satisfaction. But Threads more importantly is where we're convinced Uncles are equally suited to a mixing desk as opposed perhaps to a concert stage. The immediate fronting of wooden percussion again, works to pull the listener into the context of the music. The off-shoot deliverance of drum cymbals and bass, as well as the creeping drone of guitar that sweeps its way over the track in parts, is more stimulating for me and opens up a line of thought into how maybe the music will eventually shape. The withdrawal of percussion and droned guitar afterwards does surprise me, but I find Wallis' vocals to somewhat fulfill that prying empty space. Wallis' tone is here more down-to-Earth and reflective, and the unison with guitars creates something of a more warming approach than what we've been used to.

So I'm pleased to find this sets up Flexxin quite well, as not only do the two tracks fit the same field of being emotionally merry, but given how more hopeful and aspired the track's harmonics come across in, it certainly conjures more of a positive and aspired mood for its listeners. As noted in my track review last month, I'm immediately dragged into the track's palette of lush plucked strings, waning violin strings and, eventually, more enriched and maturer deliverance of lyrics. There's still something of an energetic zealous to the band's instrumentation, but the way the track is managed and layered, the two come to match one another and the eventual emotion trickling off these arrangements and clattered drumbeats, is overly charming. Of course, I like string pieces as much as the next guy - and I don't want people to come away from this album, or ideally towards it, with the belief this is anything overly compelling or rich. There is still a sense of limitation in how Uncles incorporate more symphonic instrumentation, and as is the case with the track Zug Zwang, the band don't necessarily leave it to the more classicist instruments to pave the track's identity. True, there are brief passages of violins as much as there are rapid successions of them, but the encompassing of drums and vocals are what commands the tracks. The more symphonic arrangements act merely as a response as opposed to the intentional catalyst, and given how well the production here works to Uncles' dreamy gaze of tone, it ends up the better of the two options in how this track could have been composed.

As mentioned, Uncles don't always come across as ideally comfortable, or perhaps best-suited, to the more refined studio-friendly method of production. Phaedra has less of an ambition about it and given how thoroughly close the instrumentation is kept, there's a niggling feeling that builds inside me suggesting perhaps the track is more minimal for reasons other than simple purposeful intent. True, its length may explain its fairly underwhelming deliverance and flickering out, but at this point in the album, to give some form of integral viability to the track because of its length feels more like desperate bias than honesty. The longest track on the album, the six-minute closer Brio certainly feels like Uncles' most progressive and sternest track of the ten. And despite the regularity and recognizable nature in the repeated notation, the drum work is a lot more energetic and compelling. Likewise, the melodic accompaniments that soon add to the build follow this same tension. The track as a whole is more driven and forwarded, and vocals feel ever the more up to the challenge. Wallis increasingly becomes ever the more suited and driven himself to lead the track. Throughout, amid the flicker of guitars, to the diluted percussion, back to enclosing violin sweeps, and eventually returning to monotonous drive of drum beats, the track does so well to maintain this weighty ambition and sense of discovery, it feels increasingly less willing to let go.

Aspiring. That's the word I'd use to best sum up how I feel about the way this album comes off in, and how also I'd like to assume the band themselves will look at this record and long for the next opportunity. I can respect how difficult it might be to transpose your particular sound from a live setting to a studio one, given how static and ill-composed the latter might feel when reaching for a pen or set of instruments. But 'Out Of Touch In The Wild' does promise enough of a suggestion that Dutch Uncles can mold themselves to suit this kind of setting. It's not without its unconvincing moments true, but I wouldn't necessarily put that down to the album feeling incomplete or untested. Rather, I'd prefer to look at this at a band finally exploring more matured and refined ways to deliver such a charismatic alternative to pop-influenced rock. It's clear the startling obliviousness to being left to studio production's mercy has at times sneaked its way onto the final product. But I'm inclined to focus rather more positively on the band's equally-clear credibility as a band knowledgeable in the melodic infusion of their music. And aided further by the use of symphonic textures and more maturer tones in vocals by Wallis himself, there's an even clearer sense that listeners will look at the emotive side to their slightly adrift, slightly blissful execution, and ultimately come away from this record, for the most part, moderately content.
~Jordan

7.5

No comments:

Post a Comment