Dutch Uncles

Big Balloon

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Like their fellow angular stalwarts Field Music, Dutch Uncles have become a little more accessible over the course of their career. However, on Big Balloon, they remain locked in a tug of war between razor-sharp pop and experimental tangents that, once again, often deliver thrilling results. This time, the band took inspiration from Kate Bush and David Bowie, sometimes directly (the sleek, jittery "Fame" homage "Combo Box") and sometimes more obliquely (the searching, string-laden "Overton," which was sparked by Bowie's passing). Like Bowie and Bush, Dutch Uncles are committed to bringing art to their pop and vice-versa, and they tackle subjects as weighty as Chernobyl on the techno-prog hybrid "Sink" and benefit cuts on "Same Plane Dream," where the rapid-fire shifts from chaotic to gleaming telegraph political conflict. To address these issues, Dutch Uncles embrace their abrasive side; where O Shudder was genteel keyboards and brass, Big Balloon relies on gritty guitars and drums for the disorienting yet irresistible "Oh Yeah" and "Baskin'," which sounds exuberant and detached at the same time. The unusual states of being in the band's songs are sometimes more admirable than relatable, but this isn't the case on Big Balloon's highlights. Buoyed by busy guitars and synths and a fittingly bouncy bassline, the equally swooning and precise title track is Dutch Uncles at their best, welcoming romance as distinctively as "Hiccup" ponders its end. Meanwhile, "Achameleon" and "Streetlight" deliver aching wit that spotlights the band's rarely heard vulnerability as well as the openness that is the key to Dutch Uncles' always-surprising music.

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