With songwriting so superb and outreaching and music so diverse yet entrancing, Oh Pioneer, Duke Special's tenth album is a real, richly flavoured treat for many a musical palate.
Oh Pioneer's opening track 'Stargazers Of The World Unite (A Love Song For Astronomers)' announces a spacey, astronomical type blend that emerges into piano-accompanied songwriting that immediately brings to mind Belle & Sebastian, Ben Folds and Badly Drawn Boy. From the very off, Duke Special's craft is wonderful poetic storytelling and lyrical picture painting that joins force with catchy, toe-tapping pace. 'Little Black Fish' opens with a piano and bass clarinet melody amongst a blend of xylophone and glockenspiel. It's a refreshing, eclectic mix of instruments instead of the usual guitar bass and drums combo, but also sensitive instrumentation alongside Peter Wilson's distinctive soft vocal complete with its gentle vibrato. Something akin to Guillemots, Duke Special also maintains an almost theatrical element to his folk story telling. Steady paced 'Punch Of A Friend' sounds flourishes of flute and clarinet whilst 'Snakes In The Grass' is full of drama and suspense, conjuring up vivid imagery especially with its dramatic choral interceptions of 'wayward child' which are reminiscent of the likes of Muse and Queen.
The low rumbling opening of 'Condition' sets a more moody and sombre scene and the track continues in a raw, honest, part-sad part-triumphant declaration of personal condition, powerfully moving and captivating. Meanwhile 'Nothing Shall Come Between Us' is a more light-hearted ditty-type waltz who's heavy use of piano, embellishing woodwind and brass and the pure honesty of the vocals bring to mind an Irish accented Rufus Wainwright. 'Long Lost' chord is a piano ballad particularly exemplary of the feeling of wistful longing that seems to run through the album, echoed in the unresolved suspension that the chorus ends on, but is completely contrasted by 'How I Learned To Love The Sun' which opens with jazzy piano flourishes and pushes on with an almost trip hop like groove before building into a 6/8 orchestral feel; a track that really emphasises the multi-timbral confidence of Duke Special on this offering. The following melancholic piano-accompanied ballad, together with the albums' synth-bass underpinned conclusion, is the closest thing the album offers to a more mainstream pop song, but that's absolutely no criticism.
Individual and colourful; a fantastic effort.