Five albums in, unconventional pop band Dutch Uncles have made their most cohesive record yet. Hailing from Manchester in England, the Memphis Industries signing have forged a unique sound since their official debut in 2008.
Big Balloon immediately captures the listener's attention via its propulsive energy, as the band reportedly had their live show in mind when writing it. "Baskin" is incredibly energetic, taut bass and drums driving it along. Strings reminiscent of their carefully orchestrated previous record, O Shudder, swoop in for a moment before the pace revs up once again.
The wonkiness of changing rhythms in "Combo Box" is infectious, as '80s-style guitars and bass couple with horns fading in and out. While the verses of "Same Plane Dream" prove slightly grating, it glides into a soaring, bass driven chorus in which frontman Duncan Wallis reflects: "I can't give up / What I can't live out / I talked about it / But I talked too loud."
In the middle section of the album, the band focus on subtleties and emotion. Strings and piano are the only accompaniment needed for "Achameleon," which features Wallis' vague yet impassioned lyrics. His delivery allows him to connect with listeners, however oblique the writing may be. Back-to-back songs "Hiccup" and "Streetlight" mark the strongest portion of the record, playful guitars and tight rhythms invigorating the former, but it's prominent bass that shines through on the album's true highlight, "Streetlight." Here, Wallis' earnest vocal, coupled with languid guitar, a steady beat and bouncing synth lines, create a warm and enveloping atmosphere.
Disparate elements of the band's music create a layered, insistent, yet gentle feeling on "Sink," as strings, synths and guitars meld into the deeply nuanced track. By harnessing the band's expert playing abilities, and directing their sound towards a live environment as opposed to a more insular, studio-based sound, Dutch Uncles have made a strong and lasting impression with Big Balloon. They are shaping their own pop form, and what an incredible listen it is. (Memphis Industries)