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December 2020 / January 2021

Dutch Uncles: Pretty odd

Everyone’s favourite pop oddballs are back: Dutch Uncles’ latest album is another step forward for the ever-evolving Mancunians.
Published: 9:56 am, February 20, 2017
Dutch Uncles: Pretty odd
Dutch Uncles are quite a weird band. A good thing, of course. It’s the hallmark of a group of musicians who are constantly creative and have traversed a unique path through the UK indie scene for five albums and a bonkers ten years. As singer Duncan Wallis explains, their ethos has always been to make subversive pop in an accessible way. “Our ongoing manifesto is that we’re going to write weird music, but people aren’t going to know it’s weird. We’ll make the weirdness more and more subtle every time we do it,” he laughs.

It’s a way of thinking that has served the Manchester quartet well as they approach ‘Big Balloon’. Just to reach five albums itself is a significant achievement, but the only thing surprising about their longevity for Duncan is the conventional way in which they’ve done it. “We seem to have gone from one, straight to the other, straight to the next,” he says. “We’ve never really taken much of a break in between them or gone off to discover something, whether it’s music or ourselves. I’m just a bit surprised that we haven’t taken a moment to stop and think about it. We’re just here. It’s like we’ve fallen asleep on the bus.”

"pull" text="Our manifesto is that we're going to write weird music, but people aren't going to know it's weird.

Despite the regularity of their music, each Dutch Uncles release is different from the last, and this time ‘Big Balloon’ is a reaction against the complex rhythms and insane ambition of previous album ‘Oh, Shudder’. There certainly aren’t any bassoons involved here, for a start. “After the last album we could only play four songs off it,” laments Duncan. “And our sampler ran out of space so we had to play real instruments. The general rule here is every song needs to sound decent and playable live in the practice room before we take it to the studio.”

While ‘Oh Shudder’ was a breakup album, Duncan’s desire to write something a bit more heartfelt didn’t quite have the desired effect for him - “More Adrian Mole than Joni Mitchell”, as he puts it. This time while the music was simplified and instrumentation pared back, Duncan’s lyrics took a turn for the more obtuse. “I wanted to write a few more riddles,” he says.

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As events transpired, ‘Big Balloon’ is also a breakup record, with the same partner incidentally, as a bit of a groundhog day effect took hold. The resulting songs though are significantly different. “I took those experiences, and I wanted to write an album that is highlighting the idea that we all think about how our own opinion is going to affect our standing on a lot of views,” he says. “’Big Balloon’ is a self-obsessed record,” Duncan continues, warming into an enthusiastic hot take on the state of society. “The whole smartphone society is a fucking mess and depressing. There are moments on the album inspired by trying out things like Tinder, depressing systems where it’s all about the importance of you. There is a false sense of importance going on at the moment. It’s the whole millennial thing where we all made to feel like we’re special and prize winners when we’re not. It’s about feeling alone and then being alone. It’s only when you’re alone that you switch yourself off and some positive things begin to happen.”

‘Big Balloon’ is, however, categorically not a concept album. “We had a concept then we threw it in the bin,” laughs Duncan. The aborted running order was a story encompassing therapy, nightclubs and fired chicken, but in typical Dutch Uncles fashion they scrapped that and tipped the order on its head, making the whole thing an even more intriguing listen. What remains, though, is that these are the poppiest, sharpest songs of their career. “We approach every album the same in that we don’t know what’s going to be a single, so we write ten different singles,” he explains.

"pull" text="This is still going to be a headfuck to anyone who listens.

There was a desire now to focus on Dutch Uncles’ purest qualities. This is them distilled to their perfect incarnation. “We wanted to hark back to some of the influences that made us want to be Dutch Uncles,” says Duncan. “So that’s Talking Heads, The Strokes, Biffy Clyro, Super Furry Animals. We wanted to be a band again. The last album was a weird album. I’m pleased we’ve got a record like that in our canon of work, but sometimes I don’t recognise it.”

Dutch Uncles will never escape being an odd and compelling band; and that’s just how it should be, only these days they’re more willing to relax. “The longer you play this game you realise you can simplify things,” says Duncan. “You don’t have to please yourself all the time. You learn to let go. It’s not like we’re ever going to run the risk of sounding like a Keane song. This is still going to be a headfuck to anyone who listens,” he laughs.”

So, more than ten years in and Dutch Uncles are still confusing and delighting people and revelling in their ability to shake things up. Slightly less weird than before, but still quite weird. Just the way we want them.

Dutch Uncles’ album ‘Big Balloon’ is out now.

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