Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
Despite the fittingly odd name, this group sounds as quintessentially British as only a bunch of blokes from Manchester can be. The phrase “Dutch uncle” is apparently a common expression (maybe better known in Europe?) for a bossy authority figure who’s often criticizing or lecturing you for your own good. I can’t guess why they chose it, then, since these fellows sound perfectly nice. They’re not yelling at you, they’re inviting anyone to join the fun and party like it’s 1989.
Big Balloon happily presents itself in glowing neon letters topped with terrycloth sweatbands and choke-worthy clouds of hairspray. The basics of the recipe are fairly simple: mix some ’80s art-pop, ’80s new wave and ’80s Euro-dance, then flatten the gated drums and add a little wiggly synth in case it doesn’t quite sound ’80s enough. Those keys are often used for atmosphere here, while much of the recording is based around rhythm and tight electric guitar riffs leaning toward old-school punk. The album’s retro sound comes from the MTV-era hooks as much as the studio production.
Fortunately these guys reside on the artier end of that retro scale far away from the glossy pop side. They start out channeling a little Talking Heads and experimental David Bowie, then go on to borrow a little XTC with some spirit of Talk Talk. For extra nerd points there’s a dash of King Crimson’s twisty complexity and just-for-the-hell-of-it sonic weirdness.
A lot of it is based on static dance grooves, though they’re not averse to swooping in with swelling strings or fuzzy funk at an unexpected moment. It’s a mix that should be lots of fun if the overall sound doesn’t give you too many awful flashbacks. Dutch Uncles are plenty friendly and danceable if that’s your thing, but they don’t sacrifice any smarts in the process.
Rating: Like, Totally Wicked