A mix of genres and musical styles merge together with Dutch Uncles distinctive style. Some are hits and some are definite misses.
Bands don’t tend to work as hard as Dutch Uncles, whose specialty dish – quirky, indefinable art-pop – has somehow managed to be expressed over five studio albums in eight years whilst supporting the likes of Everything Everything, Garbage, and Paramore. Taking a new direction, Big Balloon continues to follow the signature style, with rapid synthetic stabs and aggressive cuts slickly and intricately weaved into melodies. Nowhere is this more obvious than ‘Oh Yeah,’ which switches between low and high pitches in a twisted (albeit mildly messy) mesh.
Compared to 2015’s O Shudder, there is an increased reliance upon dominating electric guitars throughout, following the departure of guitarist Daniel Spedding and the band wanting to make “the most guitar driven record [they]can.” ‘Baskin” and the titular ‘Big Balloon’ do this expertly, exhibiting the band at its best: the former with weird, off-beat, inflected notes in the intro alongside hushed, similar verses that don’t progress obviously; the latter with stunning falsetto vocals in something that is arguably more aggressive than anything they have done before. ‘Sink’ again features a heavy synth and electric guitar mix with more retro bass undertones.
Its hints of glockenspiel are admittedly a little strange, but the mix works well in blending genres and ages. The variety that overtly influences their work makes Big Balloon pretty hard to define. ‘Combo Box’ uses niche vocals that sound almost out of tune in places and surprisingly works: effectively, it is two separate songs joined together through an underlying linking beat. The shaky/smooth vocals and pounding synth piano/retro guitar juxtapositions in ‘Same Plane Dream’ and ‘Overton’ again share this style.
It is not entirely this powerfully amazing rapid mess, however. Occasionally, the band slows down, although this is when Big Balloon is at its worst. Incidentally, these are the songs which more heavily rely on classical elements: ‘Achameleon,’ with pianos and violins, is sombre and gets boring pretty quickly, offering little in the way of surprise. ‘Hiccup,’ however, takes these influences and works effectively like a slowed version of ‘Oh Yeah.’
Sometimes laziness does creep in – the introduction to ‘Streetlight’ is repetitive and the same beat continues for a while and rarely changes throughout the duration of the song – and this certainly aids the band’s production rate, however Big Balloon shows a definite change in style for Dutch Uncles, who forever continue to merge and experiment with different approaches. When it works – as it mostly does – it contains some of their greatest hits. When it doesn’t, all seems like one big ‘Combo Box.’
Big Balloon is released on February 17th via Memphis Industries