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Dutch Uncles

Androgynous sounding singers have been part of the pop/rock scene since time immemorial; 70s glam-rock and the 80s post-new romantic/electro scene catering for a large proportion. Born as the 80s were coming to a close, the lads from Marple in Greater Manchester must’ve raided their parents’ (nay, Uncles’) record collection for inspiration. Shut your eyes and one could almost imagine JAPAN sharing studio time with Russell Mael via the channelling of frontman Duncan Wallis. Watch the bearded man live and immediate impressions change, even in DUTCH UNCLES’ celebratory video of classic debut single, `Face In’ (jilted but in his girlfriend’s wedding dress), one would be hard-pushed to suggest a less hand-in-glove sound.
Formed in 2008, Wallis (also on occasional piano), twin-guitarists Daniel “Sped” Spedding and Pete Broadhead, plus bassist Robin Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot found the terrain tough in England, preferring instead to record and sign a one-off deal for Hamburg-based imprint, Tapete Records. Described initially as art-rock or math-pop, the initially German-only DUTCH UNCLES (2008) {*6} eponymous album was as good as any debut of recent times. Angular rhythms inspired by 80s-styled KING CRIMSON-versus-GANG OF FOUR, all was cleverly intricate on the promising `Steadycam’, `Takeover’, `Loved Rat’ and the aforementioned `Face In’.
Back on British terra firma after signing to Memphis Industries (via a one-off 7” `The Ink’ for Love & Disaster), the relatively unknown DUTCH UNCLES caught up with sophomore set, CADENZA (2011) {*8}. While listeners could argue over inevitable comparisons yet again, the character of this chameleon-like combo was the racy, off-kilter pulses that complemented Wallis’s eccentric vox; best served up on `X-O’, `Dressage’, `Fragrant’, `Orval’, `Dolli’, and so on.
2013’s OUT OF TOUCH IN THE WILD {*8} saw a deeper Duncan, surrounded by the smart-pop of his DUTCH UNCLES buddies. Not many of today’s top acts, IMAGINE DRAGONS, KODALINE et al, could straddle indie pop and rock in the same manner without sounding false and ineffectual, but this quintet pulled it off with plenty kahunas to spare. One ponders why these lads were not yet the bees knees all over the globe. Maybe it was their unwillingness to bend (example the complex but funky `Bellio’, `Fester’, `Nometo’ and `Godboy’) that made a precious legion of fans think: “they’re all mine, I found them first”. One could almost forgive them for their re-take of the GRACE JONES song `Slave To The Rhythm’, decent though it was.
Still slaves to their own unpredictable rhythms, surely album number four would be more than just a stepping stone to success. Varying his flighty vocals with a deep, sensual and soulful DAVID SYLVIAN imitation, the wunderbar Wallis weaved his quavering magic on O SHUDDER (2015) {*8}. `Babymaking’, `Drips’, `Decided Knowledge’ and the very SWING OUT SISTER-esque `In N Out’ and `Given Thing’, had all the hallmarks of hits – had they been delivered in the 80s. Pity too that Spedding had to bail on the day the set was released.
Admittedly taking their spur from KATE BUSH and BOWIE; though one could still hear JAPAN and TEARS FOR FEARS, the angular DUTCH UNCLES unfettered their fifth set, BIG BALLOON (2017) {*8}. That rapid-fire prog-ish change of chord, that detached off-kilter shift in tone, and Wallis’ undervalued genteel vox, DU still languished on the wrong side of the Top 100; they really deserved much better airplay for the likes of the opening title track, `Baskin’’, the politically-motivated `Same Plane Dream’, the achingly quirky `Streetlight’, and the swooning `Achameleon’.
© MC Strong/MCS Feb2015-Feb2017

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