It’s quite audible that Duologue had the concept of originality in mind when creating their debut, fusing guitars and emotive vocals with a smorgasbord of beats from varying areas of the dance spectrum. The result is certainly a break from template.
In Song & Dance the London five-piece have some soaring moments with effortless balance between the real and the manufactured. But these are the points where their minds aren’t preoccupied with reinventing the musical wheel. Instead, the highs arrive where they combine some clear stellar influences and major on their talent, such as Tom Digby-Bell’s pure, falsetto vocals, or Toby Leeming’s ear for textures and rhythms, that they become something to talk about.
There is no quick and lazy comparison for Duologue’s material. Even labelling sonic threads from Radiohead, The Rapture, Guillemots, Burial and Four Tet that appear throughout doesn’t give a descriptive indication of what they actually sound like.
But it’s Machine Stop that sets out an emphatic stall, with fragile vocals and a glitch-heavy beat, reverbing with wooden knocks and typewriters. Then there are the vocals; with Fyfe Dangerfield’s touch of innocence, acting as counterbalance to the darker-edged, more emotionally twisted percussion and lyrical imagery. There’s a modicum of carefully timed restraint and release in the album and the production is silky, thanks to Jim Abbiss’s (Ladytron, Arctic Monkeys) touch. This is carried by Gift Horse’s pattering rain rhythms and softly plucked guitar in the background, with Seb Dilleyston’s violin adding luxury and fullness.
That same, stripped back muffled bass and the dub-esque fragmented beats that are so evocative now of Burial’s Untrue is a thread throughout, creeping into Underworld – an introverted love song that’s perhaps the album’s most successful track. Here, Duologue’s real instruments create space among claustrophobic, soulful beats where the hard edges are filed off, keeping the album in armchairs and away from the dancefloor. But the tussle for best track is tough. Push It’s four-on-the-floor beat and yawning synth act as gatekeeper to allow pianos, strings and honest vocals in, with a hint of tautly plucked, Foals-y guitar strings. But there’s also charm in the guitar and piano-mirroring loop that book-ends Constant – one of the simpler compositions with a muted four-four beat and a steady build in intensity that marries with Digby-Bell’s emotion-injected vocal.
Duologue’s chameleonic musical personality changes on at least four occasions across the 12 tracks. There are heavier moments, such as Cut And Run’s seductive, fragile, high vocal that works with the metal-on-metal beat, drawing irrepressible likeness to Radiohead’s Idioteque. Here, it’s the musicality that’s utterly compelling. And most stark is perhaps Sinner, where post-dubstep beats sit with a melodic, poetic nod to old spiritual, deep South songs.
But the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts in Zero, where slow dancehall and electric guitar mix, making for a concoction too far where even the vocals feel forced. Flying in the face of the album’s more sensitively developed content, there is also Snap Out Of It, pitching Hitchcock notes against theatricisms that feel at odds with the mission statement we’ve been won over with.
Introductions to the band and their debut have called them ‘inimitable’ and ‘immersive’. Song & Dance is both, not because it’s entirely original, but because it blends different dance genres with guitar music in a way that few have. Although originality is a thing strived for in the arts, thankfully, Duologue haven’t spent too long obsessing over that end. They are truly captivating when they take the best of their talents and translate them as they feel and, frankly, it matters little whether the product bears sonic points of reference to others or not.