Monday, 18 June 2012


Oh Pioneer by Duke Special: Album Review.

One listen to Oh Pioneer should be enough to convince you just how special Peter Wilson is. Right from the start the beautifully written album opener, Stargazers of the World Unite (A Love Song for Astronomers) indicates with a somewhat delicate subtlety, the gold plated songs and silver topped music in store from this latest studio album. The introductory synths combine perfectly with layered piano underneath those unique vocals fully engaging the ears while the mind is left to unpeel the myriad layers of meaning. The looping chorus of, ‘How am I gonna get myself to heaven?’ with answers such as, ‘Cut the ropes that keep us tethered,’ combined with the building melody, bury themselves deep within where they will remain resting long after the album has finished playing.

Little Black Fish offers up a thrill ride I’m not sure is quite white knuckle but it tries hard to get there and certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thoughtful and melancholic lyrics give the feeling of questioning life, the universe and everything alongside the use of a hefty mix of musical styles. The diverse underlying tones build up to a crescendo that all of a sudden begins to settle into a quieter contemplation.

Duke reminds me a little of the US singer songwriter John Grant (who I was fortunate enough to catch at last year’s BeautifulDays festival) in the way he demonstrates such raw talents that are nevertheless passed through a huge musical car wash complete with all those big fluffy rollers, the end result sounding so polished and near perfect it should be a crime that they aren’t more well-known.

The stakes are raised tenfold by the time Snakes in the Grass makes its appearance. If songs could talk this one would scream at you demanding your full attention simply because its grandeur commands it! It begins like a futuristic nursery rhyme might do but before long the first booming operatic interjection of ‘Wayward Child’ packs such a punch make sure you’re holding on to something if you aren’t sitting down or you might be blown to Timbuktu by its gale force strength. Reminiscent of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, while it was never going to get anywhere near as epic as that anthem this honestly doesn’t feel in any way an underachievement.

Overall this album is a tour de force of diverse musical arrangement but whereby many out there in Popworld today might use this strength to divert attention away from the lack of quality of their lyrics, Peter lines up thoughtful, contemplative and reflective songs of the highest calibre, one after another.

The lyrics for Condition reveal just how delicate Peter can get. Appearing first as somewhat oddly written it exemplifies how deceptive appearances often are. The clever yin-yang nature of its message roots you to the spot. Who hasn’t experienced the cavalcade of completely polar opposite emotions about the self? This is why it works so well and while it remains one of the quieter tracks it is one of the most profound in terms of scope. The concluding minute and a half pulls it all together so tightly there’s no danger of the perfection escaping. Hearing it for just the second time, the profundity of this track almost knocked me over even with its much softer gentler approach. This song alone for me cements the Special[ness] of this Duke.

The opening of Lost Chord is how I imagine Icelandic masters Sigur Ros may sound if they ever leant more towards indie-synth pop however the song swiftly makes a giant leap back to familiar Duke territory. How I Learned to Love the Sun acts as a somersaulting acrobatic exercise for Peter’s wide ranging vocal abilities.

Although immediate predecessor, Under the Dark Cloth, came as the result of a special project with songs based on an exhibit of photographs, in complete contrast Oh Pioneer is a deeply personal adventure revealing much more of the artist’s personality. Music fans should appreciate there is a talent out there producing outstanding music that not only makes one think a little harder but who can layer it with such an eclectic mix of diverse musical sounds, electronic and acoustic alike. For someone with such a prolific output of work, this being his tenth album overall, if it were a cloud it would result in a torrential downpour flooding the world with its quality.

Perhaps what is most important is that in the current music market, Oh Pioneer offers something that sounds original and isn’t an attempt for the artist to tick the boxes that will afford him fame and fortune. What remains clear is Duke Special is in this for the outlet music affords him in expressing his creativity and that is special all on its own.
Much more electronic and synth sounding than predecessor I Never Thought This Day Would Come and less theatrical (but certainly no less dramatic) than Under the dark Cloth, it would be interesting to see how this particular material translates to a live show. From what I’ve heard so far I don’t have a shadow of a doubt he would pull it off in true style.

Irony can truly be a bitch sometimes and with Duke Special putting in an appearance at Beautiful Days festival this year it saddens me further I won’t be in attendance. This is an artist I absolutely most certainly and definitely want to see so my eyes are peeled and ears are open for future dates.

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