Dutch Uncles

O Shudder

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Dutch Uncles continue the sweetening of their sound that began with Out of Touch in the Wild with O Shudder, a set of songs revolving around a twenty-something everyman having a pre-life crisis. As the band juggles inspirations ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Ian Dury, they could seem too cerebral for their own good, but the album's concept allows them to balance their intricate, wide-ranging musicianship with newfound emotional directness. As the protagonist encounters -- and is sometimes paralyzed by -- love, work, and health issues, O Shudder plays to Dutch Uncles' strengths: Duncan Wallis' detached, shivery tenor and the band's rubbery sound capture a life in flux, most literally on "Upsilon," where the Greek letter in the song's title marks a fork in the road and choices that must be made. Elsewhere, they explore the full spectrum of inadequacy, from cultural ("I Should Have Read") to sexual ("Babymaking," "In n Out"). As on Out of Touch in the Wild, there's a jauntiness to O Shudder that makes its angst charming, especially on highlights like "Decided Knowledge," a failed job search filled with Sparks-like jabbing riffs and call-and-response vocals. There are also plenty of musical delights separate from the album's thematic conceit, like the gorgeous interplay of piano, woodwinds, and guitar on "Drips" that exemplifies Dutch Uncles' lively textures. As action overtakes fear on later songs like "Accelerate" and "Don't Sit Back (Frankie Said)" -- where Wallis sings "you've got to reach out 'till it hurts someone," which might as well be the album's manifesto -- O Shudder's vibe is nearly as unsure as it was at the beginning, but that only attests to how masterfully the band embodies contradictions. Equally precise and off-kilter, noodly and urgent, Dutch Uncles sound remarkably confident on these portraits of uncertainty.

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