Album Review: Dutch Uncles: Big Balloon

‘While the ‘Big Balloon’ may deflate at times, at others, it is crammed full of musical energy, ready to burst.’

Intro to Dutch Uncles:
Listening to Dutch Uncles is like entering a world where little makes sense. It is confusing, complex and full of twists and turns, and it would seem this is entirely the intention. I mean, who really wants to listen to predictable music all the time? I certainly don’t and as you’ll find out, ‘Big Balloon’ is far
from what we have come to expect from pop music today.

Track 1: Big Balloon
In an almost metaphorical way, the title track ‘Big Balloon’ creates a sense of joy and full on enjoyment similar to what a young child may feel when finding a balloon to play with for the first time. However soon after this, rock influenced guitar riffs and extremely catchy vocal hooks combine together, giving you the sense that with this album you may need to expect the unexpected.

Tracks 2, 3 & 4: Baskin, Combo Box & Same Plane Dream
Moving onto Track 2 ‘Baskin’, a similar rocky feel is created but the lyrics are nowhere near as catchy and to be honest, the way they sit in the mix certainly gives the impression of the instruments being the star of the track. This style of mix can also be heard in Track 3 ‘Combo Box,’ however, the lyrics are slightly more centre stage this time and keep you guessing as to what will come next. Equally, the same can be said for the accompanying music which jumps between the previous styles but with the introduction of at least two others and going into Track 4, ‘Same Plane Dream,’ you realise you have two options: continue listening to a musical version of organised chaos or switch off.

Being musically open, I chose the former and actually, once you adjust to the fact there will be a plethora of surprises to catch you out, the musical chaos begins to make sense. Unexpectly, this mental change makes you realise that what Dutch Uncles are doing is actually really clever. This is especially the case in the opening of the track as there isn’t a clear beat due to heavily syncopated synth bass riffs which only disappear to make way for a highly unexpected chorus in 4/4. It’s a true highlight.

Track 5: Achalmeleon
Reaching the halfway point, Track 5 ‘Achameleon’ yet again shows how diverse Dutch Uncles’ influences are. The introduction this time isn’t a rock inspired one, but one with a slightly jazzy feel. This atmosphere – created by the piano chord riff – gives you the impression that the track may not be as full on as everything before it, and in another surprise, this is exactly the case. Featuring only a piano, a cello and a solo vocal line, the track is very sparse and it is only when an unexpected pizzicato violin melody is combined with scat inspired vocals that you realise it is from the same artist.

Tracks 6 & 7: Hiccup & Streetlight
Moving into the second half of the album, Track 6 ‘Hiccup’ features similar ideas to the previous tracks, such as funk style guitar riffs and the use of heavy syncopation but the style influences are even wider. I actually lost count of how many there were and while I may have been close to getting auditory indigestion, it is a great track. Following this Dutch Uncles we hear Track 7 ‘Streetlight’, which introduces us to minimalism. The use of this influence in the opening – which is highly reminiscent of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint – is brilliantly effective and the use of cross-panned repeating ideas help to conjure up the image of busy roads.

Tracks 8, 9 & 10: Oh Yeah, Sink & Overton
Unfortunately, the same can not be said as we get into the final few tracks with Track 8 ‘Oh Yeah’ or Track 9 ‘Sink’ seeming to not really add anything to the album and be rather forgettable. Thankfully, the final track ‘Overton’ sees a return of all the best bits from the tracks that precede it making you realise that while the ‘Big Balloon’ may deflate at times, at others, it is crammed full of musical energy, ready to burst.

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Listen to Dutch Uncles on: Spotify

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