Dutch Uncles – ‘O Shudder’

Bookish Manchester band keep their surrealist pop bouncy and airy on album five

Something strange happened to Dutch Uncles after the release of 2013’s coming-of-age album ‘Out Of Touch In The Wild’: they received the patronage of emo-pop powerhouse Paramore, who took them out on a huge European tour and – in theory – introduced them to legions of potential new fans. For a band whose elegant, uplifting pop – think Field Music crossed with Prince – has been cruelly overlooked for far too long, this was definitely the makings of a ‘big break’.

So, depending on your standpoint as regards selling out and cashing in, you’ll either be baffled or delighted to discover that they’ve adjusted their modus operandi not one jot on the follow-up, ‘O Shudder’. There are no big choruses or emo-friendly sentiments for the Paramore fans. Instead, the Manchester-based quintet draw fresh sculptures from the blueprint created for ‘…Wild’, keeping intact its bouncy, airy feel, intellectual-sounding song titles (hello, ‘Upsilon’) and lyrics that seem to view human relationships through the lens of an anthropologist rather than a participant. Even the sticky subject of sex – presumably the topic of opener ‘Babymaking’ – inspires the kind of neat, clinically clean, robotically perfect song that could soundtrack an Open University film on fractional distillation.

Theirs is an unusual mix, pinching from XTC’s detached social commentary, Tears For Fears’ dense instrumentation, Talk Talk’s restraint and Tom Tom Club’s clever appropriation of funk. There’s also strong influence from jazz and math-rock in the shifting time signatures and lunging basslines, and the combined effect is one of pop surrealism – one track, ‘Decided Knowledge’, has Duncan Wallis answering his bandmates’ call of “You’ve got it,” with the response, “A curriculum vitae!”

Given the quality of songwriting and clarity of sound that Dutch Uncles achieve, all of the above is to be admired, in its own way. The difficulty of being in a field of one is that it’s easy to go unnoticed; carry on like this and Dutch Uncles risk being the kind of best-kept-secret that’s kept too well by too few. But the hope in them sticking to their guns so firmly is that some of those Paramore fans – and more besides – will hop on board with them on the band’s own terms. Why not do the same?