Music Reviews
Out of Touch in the Wild

Dutch Uncles Out of Touch in the Wild

(Memphis Industries) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

There are benefits to being slightly out of touch. Except that to avoid the repercussions that arise from getting entirely left behind, many pop acts of the new century have been elevating the level of high art by reconstructing many old-fashioned recording techniques and molding them inside facile, agreeable templates. Manchester quintet Dutch Uncles has always been slightly under the radar, partly attributable to the fact that they’ve been careful not to fall into the trappings of chart pop. The funny thing is that a forward-thinking track like 2011’s Cadenza had breakthrough written all over it, and they certainly captured the attention of a couple of BBC 1 Radio listeners that would otherwise raise their eyebrows if they stumble into their intricately plotted album experiences.

Dutch Uncles may be in the business of writing complex, multipart arrangements, yet they don’t necessarily belabor it with exhausting precision. That is why their latest effort doesn’t come across as audacious as it seems, and a quick glance into pop history will reveal that most of their blueprint is borrowed from a musical model that was very much in touch throughout the eighties. At times as chipper as the danceable stylings of the Fixx, while other times as imposing as the Power Station without the machismo blustering, Out of Touch in the Wild threads a fine line of innovation and imitation, and intends to do so in a way that’s both smart and stimulating.

The entire design of Out of Touch is constructed as a grand puzzlement, one that’s not necessarily meant to be understood. This house of mirrors approach works both to their benefit and detriment, like the dubiously titled Pondage, in which an uneasy piano stride goes on to reveal a whirlwind of mathy guitar hooks that turn around an axis as a dilatory violin reveals that curtain of suspense. It transitions seamlessly into Bellio, which raises the momentum with hurried piano strokes that cut into a prominent chorus made up of alarmingly kitschy, but still radiant synths. Dutch Uncles celebrate the freedom of movement, proven no better than in the leftfield hit Fester, an irresistibly catchy tune carried by a bevy of fidgety, xylophone hits that are mollified by a measured, surging drone.

All these oft-kiler accoutrements merely expand upon Dutch Uncles’ earlier efforts, especially since Out of Touch enjoys the benefit of a proper studio space this time around. The time was well invested, all its intricacies expressed beautifully in Zug Zwang, a polyrhythmic powerhouse that is built around acres of swelling strings poised at the cusp of tumbling into a collapse as Duncan Wallis’ androgynous delivery circles in different auditory channels. Even in its more abrasive moments the results are splendidly multi-hued, like Nometa, a fairly simple, yet wholly percussive track that fizzles with a chromatic palette of marimba-emulating notes and hammered-on guitar riffing squalls.

Dutch Uncles couldn’t describe themselves more appropriately – like their labelmetes Field Music, especially Peter Brewis' The Week that Was one-off project, they’re not informed on any new genre developments, instead carving out chimerical pop concoctions that, luckily for them, have actually managed to gather a decent amount of airplay. Despite how structurally disciplined it sounds as a whole, their chamber-turned new wave hybrid should suffice for those who couldn’t fathom it from front to back. There’s an airy sophistication in Out of Touch, to some degree credited to their steady maturation as songwriters, but their playfulness and oftentimes-nervy approach to the material is really what makes it stand out, despite the challenge to decode its ambiguous ways. Nevertheless, these songs relentlessly alter, shift and turn in on themselves in new and exciting ways. Not bad for a band that’s seriously flirting with that much-coveted main slot.