Out Of Touch In The Wild, Dutch Uncles’ 2013 album, was one of that year’s highlights: a complex yet accessible work bearing the same gift for melody and mild eccentricity as their fellow English contemporaries Hot Chip, Wild Beasts, Field Music and Metronomy.
Now here comes the follow-up, O Shudder. Dutch Uncles haven’t needlessly fiddled about with their sound: the band still tightly weaves together drums, piano, woodwind and tastefully-restrained guitar, while singer Duncan Wallis still sounds a lot like Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.
There is, however, a slight shift towards more synthetic instrumentation on O Shudder. Babymaking glimmers with keyboards that sound like they’ve been beamed in from a nightclub in the 1980s, while Upsilon opens with an almost EDM-like cascade of synths. But, for the most part, admirers of the Uncles’ previous two albums will find O Shudder reassuringly familiar.
Lyrically, O Shudder purports to cover themes as diverse as “pregnancy, social media, terrorism, divorce, sexual dysfunction, job seeking, health scares, doubt [and] love”. Of these, only the first really leaps out at the listener: opener Babymaking is a procreative sex jam on which the subject has “got the right side of 25 goin’ on”. As for the other lyrical themes, they prove harder to pin down – partly because of the allusive, opaque nature of the lyric sheet, but also because the listener is likely to be distracted by the record’s hypnotic rhythms.
The best moments on O Shudder create excitement without reliance on bombast. Once its earworm melody has taken hold, Upsilon changes tack with a bass-driven breakdown that lifts the song to another level. Drips builds gradually, relentlessly and sounds genuinely sinister (not an adjective previously associated with Dutch Uncles). On Given Thing, Wallis pushes his voice into a higher register without losing control of it: he sounds desperate in an oddly soulful way. Decided Knowledge and funky closer Be Right Back, meanwhile, exhibit all the band’s best features: taut grooves and muscular melodies.
A couple of flaws prevent O Shudder from surpassing Out Of Touch In The Wild. First, at times the band sound like they’re on auto-pilot: both In N Out and Don’t Sit Back (Franky Said) find the band treading water and recycling melodies from past songs. Second, there’s nothing here quite as infectious as 2013 single Flexxin’.
But this is still an impressive album by a band who possess intelligence, originality and personality – three qualities that are at a premium in British indie music right now.