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Duke Special - Songs From The Deep Forest

Duke Special, Songs From The Deep Forest

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DUKE Special is often thought of as a lusciously eccentric artist who likes to create songs that are “dusty and beautiful” on record.

His vocal style is frequently compared to Badly Drawn Boy, while the Belfast-born Duke refers to his own sound as “hobo-chic”. His latest album Songs From The Deep Forest is a fascinating listen that contains as many special moments as it does crushing disappointments.

From its name alone, the album aspires to a fantastical kind of place that enables Duke Special to transport listeners on a rich musical journey. But while certainly ambitious, it’s not always successful.

Impressive album opener Wake Up Scarlett, with its swirling pianos and soaring chorus, is swiftly followed by the kooky Everybody Wants A Little Something, with is playful horns, marching band-style drums and bittersweet lyrics (“I don’t love you”). But it’s quirky style could inspire or frustrate depending on your mood and isn’t the unqualified success you somehow feel it ought to be.

Brixton Leaves is another oddity – the longest track on the album at over four minutes and featuring a collaboration with Ben Hales. But it’s eccentric, drawn out style is a little grating, while the backdrop of pianos, violins and woodpecker-style beats doesn’t combine as effectively as it might. It’s epic and almost theatrical but it just doesn’t hit as forcefully as it might.

The album works better when keeping things simple. There’s no denying the soaring beauty of Freewheel, for instance, which hints at classic Ben Folds and builds towards a sweeping, powerful chorus.

While the ode to life that is Last Night I Nearly Died, a former single built around rasping violin chords, strings and tinkling pianos, is a vibrant recording that is effortlessly enchanting. It’s a time when the quirkiness combines to make a wonderful whole and leaves you yearning for more of the same.

Slip Of A Girl, too, is a low-key ballad that’s impossible to resist and another example of how to write a ballad without falling prey to awkward, sappy sentiment. It’s kooky enough to remain endearing and unfolds in beautiful fashion without the need to become too slushy.

Such moments come in stark contrast to times when the album feels pretentious and a little too high concept for its own good. But then maybe that’s because there are a few too many singer-songwriters attempting to bring something quirky and surreal to the mix right now.

There’s certainly plenty to admire in Songs From The Deep Forest even though some of its eccentricities become tiring. Those who like their music to transport them on fantastic journeys – the cover of the album features a group of bears watching another bear conducting an empty stage – may revel in such quirkiness but it ultimately becomes both a strength and a weakness of the experience.

Track listing:

  1. Portrait
  2. Freewheel
  3. Salvation Tambourine
  4. Something Might Happen
  5. Brixton Leaves
  6. Slip Of A Girl
  7. Everybody Wants A Little Something
  8. Ballad Of A Broken Man
  9. Wake Up Scarlett
  10. No Cover Up
  11. Last Night I Nearly Died
  12. This Could Be My Last Day