Photo by Sebastian Matthes
Indie rock's place in mainstream music is in a precarious place. Each guitar riff seems to be begging for relevancy; trying to remind us of the ways a traditional four or five piece band could stir us up enough to let loose on the dance floor or thoughtfully challenge ourselves.
Yet, good indie rock looks at that looming question of relevance square in the eye and asks how it can push itself forward. On their fifth record, Big Balloon, Manchester's Dutch Uncles swerve toward a funkier art-rock approach; still on the heels of David Bowie, with a little David Byrne, and added touch of contemporaries Franz Ferdinand. It's not subtle, it's soaring, which is it what makes it good. "I doubt the bands at the top will ever push anything forward, they'll just get cozy like the Kaiser Chiefs and make an album/do a tour when they want some money," says Dutch Uncles lead singer Duncan Wallis. "But I'm not sure what the flourishing underground troupes will do to separate themselves from the situation other than politely decline the shortsighted offers handed down from the top. Hopefully they'll do just that."
Big Balloon is a classically twitchy art-rock; breathy on "Hiccup", fast-paced and earnest on "Baskin'" before launching into the swelling ballad-esque "Achameleon." It would seem too easy to simply cite the group's influences of Bowie or Kate Bush (which they happily do) but Big Balloon is more nuanced than just the big names of the 80s. Each song sounds like a tribute to something the band loved from the genre's heyday; dedicating itself to production and composition of a good song, narrowing their focus on the singular rather than a narrative or cohesive piece. On title track "Big Balloon" one is most struck by the deft bass intro that steadies the track through its entirety; the synths on "Sink"; "Combo Box" moves between taut riffs; and "Oh Yeah" is more a power pop track than a rock song. This allows for some flexibility and experimentation on the part of the group. "Our last two albums had been very stiff in a narrative sense and, in some cases, you needed to listen to one song to make sense of another. So this time around we wanted ten separate entities that also complimented each other," says Wallis.
Big Balloon is out Feb. 17 via Memphis Industries but listen to a premiere stream of it below and see where you can catch them live:
18 Feb. - Manchester, Low Four Studio, Piccadilly Records Out Store
20 Feb. - Nottingham, Rough Trade In Store
21 Feb. - London, Rough Trade East In Store
22 Feb. - Bristol, Rise In Store
01 March - Edinburgh, Electric Circus
02 March - Newcastle, The Cluny
03 March - Leeds, The Wardrobe
04 March - Nottingham, Bodega
06 March - Birmingham, Hare and Hounds
07 March - Sheffield, The Plug
08 March - Oxford, O2 Academy2
09 March - Bristol, Fleece
11 March - Brighton, The Haunt
12 March - Southampton, Talking Heads
13 March - London, Village Underground
15 March - Manchester, Dancehouse Theatre
27 Jul – 30 Jul 2017 – Hertfordshire, Standon Calling Festival
Sarah MacDonald is a staff writer for Noisey Canada. Follow her on Twitter.