Album review: Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon

Dutch Uncles - Big Balloon

Dutch Uncles - Big Balloon - Credit: Archant

Salford band’s fifth continues to straddle post-punk and complex pop. Is it enough to make anyone care?

The Salford alt-pop four-piece apparently drew on influences including Low-era Bowie, Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes and a crate of eastern European techno for their fifth album.

Singer and lyricist Duncan Wallis says the recording process was the perfect response to feelings of abandonment they’d been harbouring – presumably brought about by the political climate, but frankly you’d be hard-pressed to fathom what this multi-layered record was a response to.

As per usual, Wallis’ lyrics – covering austerity, fried chicken (the enjoyable Combo Box), therapy, loneliness and paranoia – are opaque or obtuse, depending on your standpoint.

Still, the title track welcomes us and bounces along with the kind of sunny bonhomie, singalong chorus and taut guitar twang White Denim exhibited in last year’s catchy Had 2 Know.

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They say it helped refocus the band around the electric guitar’s potency, but nowhere else do they nail the same pop chops. Most of the time Wallis wibbles and quivers airily as jerky rhythms and at least three motifs play tag team or interweave on guitars, synths, bass, violin, glockenspiel and more.

In that sense it’s classic Dutch Uncles, but most of the songs here don’t quite gel or feel comfortable in their own skin; too many ideas fight for attention instead of working together.

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In this context Achameleon, with restrained piano and vocals, stands out in its relative simplicity. Other highlights include Streetlight, permeated by strobing synth and funky bassline, and the burbling, rounded notes of Sink, a milky balm for the downplayed serrated guitar.

You could listen to this 10 times straight and each song will reveal a different facet or new rhythm. But on balance Big Balloon is a bit too clever for its own good.

Rating: 3/5

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