Filthy Dukes - Nonsense In The Dark
Sel Bulut 30/04/2009
Anyone remember Does It Offend You, Yeah? With the initial promise of their early scuzzy releases like Battle Royale, Weird Science, Let's Make Out and We Are Rockstars they seemed to be on a winning streak of unoriginal but undeniably fun punky electro. The problem was that it was all quite samey - reasonably acceptable if you're a dance act releasing 12”s, but on an album it's a problem - who would want such a constant barrage of dancefloor 'bangers' on an album? - and so they embraced a new side to their music to bring some more diverse and interesting sounds. Of course anyone who has listened to their album will know that all we ended up with was a bunch of trite indie rock, frankly embarrassing tracks like Dawn Of The Dead and Epic Last Song filling the remaining space on the record and killing any promise they once showed. And then they were promptly forgotten about, and will hopefully stay that way.
Filthy Dukes are easily comparable to DIOYY? - electro with indie roots, some ace singles under their belt already and now in a position to release an album that isn't full of hit after hit. Thankfully 'Nonsense In The Dark' is a far better record than the DIOYY? album and although very firmly influenced by that British indie rock style it presents a more interesting spin on the overcrowded genre that keeps it from sounding stale. And unlike DIOYY?, their sound is less the heavily distorted maximalism found in a lot of bargain bin electro in a post-Justice world and more the indie disco of a Kitsune or Modular compilation - indistinctive production but very, very tight.
The album kicks off with the previous single and current re-release This Rhythm, introducing the Filthy Dukes sound and the general theme of the album - 4/4 beat, bleeps here and there and a guest turn on vocals from a guy in a new indie band (in this case, Sam Eastgate from Late Of The Pier). As a single the track was excellent, groovy and danceable with a vocal track that doesn't distract from the rest of the song but helps distinguish it from the competition. It wasn't marred by unnecessary builds and drops like the latest Crookers or Bloody Beetroots 'hit', Sam's vocals suited the track perfectly and it was quite simply unpretentious yet fun electro. As an album opener, though, it feels limp. In a club - which is obviously the main place this sort of music belongs - it's the perfect track for a warm-up DJ, not commanding enough to force you to dance your arse off and exhaust yourself before the main act, and requiring a few songs to be spun before it to fully understand the track in context. Such can be said about its place on the album - it's simply placed too early to really have a major impact.
The fact that this is the best song on the album doesn't bode too well either, but if you stick with it there are some more surprises. The first half of the album is mostly taken up by more club-orientated tracks, like the singalong What Happens Next and quirky grooves of You Better Stop (even if this does have an inescapable feeling of Wearing My Rolex running throughout it). The best track of this half comes in the form of Tupac Robot Club Rock, a four and a half minute hip hop crossover with completely overblown synths and guitars clashing against each other like a modern reworking of The Final Countdown (but in a good way, don't worry).
Nonsense In The Dark acts as the centrepiece of the album, a deliberate attempt to slow things down and show off some diversity on the record, insisting that it's not just straight 122-130bpm dancefloor fodder. Orlando Weeks provides the vocals here on what is the most overtly indie rock-sounding song on the album and it sadly just doesn't work as much as it clearly wants to. It's overlong, and the build up and break out at the end is too dull to really seem worth it. But it does at least set the tonal shift of the record - the following track works much better as a follow up to this song than it would on its own, and being instrumental greatly aids it.
And this is where the main flaw of 'Nonsense In The Dark' lies. The album is simply plagued by drab indie vocalists that ruin a lot of potentially excellent tracks on the record (case in point: Messages, bouncy and fun with a killer Human League synthline running throughout murdered by Tommy Sparks' lukewarm tones being plastered over it). Half of the songs would easily have benefitted from reducing the guest turns to simple chants and hooks, or even removing them entirely and keeping the instrumental cut, as the production is good enough as is that it doesn't really need the vocal to add to it. Although the guests aren't as obnoxious and album-destroying as those on the recent MSTRKRFT album, they don't offer much like they do on the recent Yuksek one and in the end just bring down something potentially a lot more interesting.
Another problem though is the total lack of female tones. Considering the recent popularity of female-fronted bands in indie rock (and considering how popular female vocals in dance music have been since the days of italo disco) it's surprising they couldn't at least blag a turn from Florence Welch on here, especially given how uninspiring and charmless most of the male-sung tracks become. Aeroplane recently showed us how powerful the right female vocals can be in their stunning remix of Friendly Fires' Paris, completely eliminating the original track's male turns yet retaining Au Revoir Simone's take on the song, and in the process transformed a bland indie electro song into one of the best tracks of last year. This sort of approach would have definitely alleviated potentially interesting songs on 'Nonsense In The Dark' that are hampered by the indistinctive warbling of people like Orlando Weeks.
Whilst dance albums are becoming more and more redundant you have to praise 'Nonsense In The Dark' for going the Hot Chip route and balancing peak-time DJ set tracks with more diverse and interesting sounds without losing any real quality and becoming Does It Offend You, Yeah? mk II. They could easily have filled the album with ten songs in the vein of This Rhythm, like the Boys Noize and (more recently) Shadow Dancer records - records full of fundamentally great tracks but no real variety or feeling of it being 'an album' - but chose not to, keeping it as something that works both out and for home listening which is always a good thing. And yet after the closing ballad Somewhere At Sea you can only really describe 'Nonsense In The Dark' as decent. The album is never at any point bad but very few of it really shines as special.
It's not going to stand the test of time, especially given the reliance on guest turns from very much flavour-of-the-now acts. But who cares? It's fun whilst it's here so you may as well dance whilst you can.