Filthy Dukes – Nonsense in the Dark (Fiction)
Filthy Dukes are Tim Lawton, Olly Dixon and Mark Ralph, a trio of DJ/producers who sharpened their teeth commandeering Fabric’s Kill Em All club night. Nonsense in the Dark sees the Dukes residing as pop royalty, assembling a court from the many acts who have passed through their dukedom, and the result is a collaborative beast that runs the gamut of indie dance from krautrock to synthpop. And somehow a giant masonic eye figures into all of this.
The album gets off to an upbeat start with the appropriately filthy electro of This Rhythm, an entrancing slice of dance that mixes Samuel Dust’s off-kilter vocals with relentless keyboards and percussion to great effect. It’s an apt opener that acts as a sort of manifesto for the album – this has all of the instancy needed for a party album, but Dust’s almost otherworldly vocals lead us deeper into the labyrinth of pop that Nonsense in the Dark is built around.
The baton is passed into the able hands of Foreign Islands on the punchy, crowd-goading What Happens Next (although perhaps the true star here is the requisite sample of kids spelling things out) and Swedish pop up-and-comer Tommy Sparks on the upbeat Messages, by far the album’s most pure pop moment. Tupac Robot Club Rock – probably the best example of all-out nonsense on the album – sees hip hop outfit Plastic Little spitting delightfully ridiculous rhymes over stadium electrorock that becomes so big that it’s both infectious and comical in equal measure. “It’s like Godzilla!” exclaim the band, and it’s a completely believable statement in the context of such an irreverent stomper as this.
But it’s during the more reflective, melancholy moments of the second half that the album is perhaps at its strongest. The title track squeezes the best out of Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks and deftly mixes it with glimmering electronics to create a standout that comes from the James Murphy school of bittersweet electro. There’s always the danger of a 6 minute long pop song becoming the indulgent centrepiece of an album that overshadows everything else with its pomp, but this is instead that centrepiece that the rest of the album hinges upon and swirls around, the ideal segue from the first half’s upbeat dance to the second half’s generally darker, more introspective tone. There’s a lilting, carefree element to the song, but it’s off-set by Weeks’ performance and a sombre undercurrent of fleeting love that’s as celebratory as it is heartbreaking (“so perfume this/make it a thing to miss when you’ve gone away/you’ve gone away”).
The biggest surprise of all comes from Somewhere At Sea, the disarmingly affecting closer that sees Sunny Day Sets Fire’s Mauro Remiddi knocking it out of the park over a crashing piano line and a sombre electronic heartbeat. It’s a staggering achievement that the album can go from the dirty electro of This Rhythm and the summery pop of Messages to such a heartfelt and human conclusion without anything feeling contrived or incongruous, and therein lies Nonsense in the Dark‘s multi-faceted charm.
It’s not a perfect record, and there are a few lulls, but these seem largely symptomatic of a bar set too high by the album’s peaks. Indeed, the downside to the band’s brilliant work with an array of vocalists is that the listener may become too reliant on a more traditional pop structure, and so instrumentals like Cul-de-Sac can feel like interludes instead of fully fleshed out songs in their own right.
Regardless, this is an album that never manages to sound average, nor is it guilty of being boring. Much of the album’s success relies on a network of musicians working seamlessly together, and at its core are three performers utilizing the oxymoronic stage in their careers at which they find themselves. Nonsense in the Dark benefits from being that rare creature – a seasoned debut, with the Dukes’ years of experience bringing a wealth of sophistication and well-honed dance intuition to what is nevertheless the fresh-faced and vivacious beginning of an exciting new venture.
So while it’s at first baffling, the giant eye that graces the album cover is actually the perfect poster child for the project. It’s a swirling, hypnotic figurehead for a swirling, hypnotic album that instantly draws you in and slowly reveals its intricacies and nuances over the repeat listens that it deserves.