reviewed by Chris Matei
It’s quite fitting that the lead-off track on Duotang’s New Occupation is called “Nostalgia’s a Vice.” The self-reflective, self-deprecatory, autobiographical tune sets the tone for the Winnipeg stalwarts’ first release in fifteen long years. In such time, their brand of angular, proto-punk riffage has been superseded by a universe of “alternative” forms, and continuing evolutions toward the extreme ends of the bell curve in both of the genres that chiefly influenced them in the first place. “Are you lost in the digital age?” they ask, “do you distrust people half your age?” It’s perhaps a little on the nose, but “embracing something new” is precisely what Duotang do on New Occupation.
Rod Slaughter and Sean Allum have decades of extra life experience and new points of view down which to point their sights, but their music continues to pay great homage to the kind of college rock ethos that swirled potently around the early days of the Mint Records label, with tongues planted firmly in cheek but instrumentation and lyricism still pointed and sharp. Their combination of growling Ampeg and whimsical keys laid over bare-bones, pounding drum work still sounds timelessly relevant while harkening back to a time when mods and rockers sparred in the streets.
The title track makes a Hot Hot Heat-ish dancey groove work hard over a hip-shaking grind and ecstatic horn blasts; there’s even a genuinely enjoyable “na-na-nah” section of the kind most modern alt acts would dismiss as coy or ironic, but it just works, and you just grin listening to it. The same sentiment goes for much of New Occupation, from speedy schoolyard punk burners “Bastard Five” and “Prisoners’ Dilemma” to plaintive rockers like “(Can’t Help Having My) Reservations” and “The Mentors.” The simplicity and heart-on-sleeve quality of these tracks just sticks the landing whenever it’s called upon to do so. There’s a fair bit of resemblance here, too, between Duotang and fellow Mint alums Immaculate Machine, particularly in their fondness for playful organ licks and in Slaughter’s vocal timbre, which takes on the uncannily nerdy-but-fierce quality that made Brooke Gallupe such an oddly compelling storyteller on albums like High on Jackson Hill.
It’s refreshing to hear Duotang back in the game, making alt rock without embellishment or overproduction, focused and intuitive, forceful and narrative all at once. They’re bringing the weirdness back to the fore and doing a solid job with New Occupation.
Top Tracks: “Karma Needs to Come Around”; “(Can’t Help Having My) Reservations”; “Prisoners’ Dilemma”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)