Album Review: Duke Special – Look Out Machines

Look Out Machines

duke special look out machines!Released April 6th 2015

Words: Nick Jacques

The dread-locked enigmatic troubadour Peter Wilson (aka Duke Special) from Northern Ireland returns with his 8th offering Look out machines! The self- proclaimed creator of “hobo-chic” has been blending his Irish-folk roots with musical theatrics and brutalised romanticism since his debut outing Adventures in Gramophone in 2005 and this is first release since Oh Pioneer in 2012 and here he picks up from where he left off. Wilson strikes you as the sort of musician that could slip into a persona of a pop star quite easily and sell bucket loads of records but for 1 reason or another, this has largely gone unnoticed. I think Wilson deserves credit as he’s managed to consistently release records of quality which have not entirely removed him from the music radar and he still has the passion and the creativity to keep questioning musical vice.

The prolific Duke Special sets about his ways in impressive fashion with opener Wingman. Piano, synth and orchestral movements combine with Wilson’s distinctive vocals to compelling effect. It’s an indicator for the rest of the album – a polished product which comprises of lashings of beautifully crafted arrangements which support his delicate tones. Duke Special’s vocal range is similar to that of Rufus Wainwright. The careful and trained notes to which Wilson achieves offer a clear comparison to Wainwright’s. Which is by no means an easy task to accomplish.

There is an effortless chemistry on a number of tracks. Particularly on In A Dive there is clever interplay between violin strains and Wilson’s vocals. His voice is definitely his best weapon amongst the cavalry. It sets the tone for each track and creates a refreshing intimacy for the listener.

The pace of  Look Out Machines! increases with the imposing beats and driving synths of Son Of The Left Hand. Duke Special manages to craft an atmosphere which reminds me of Kate Bush’s classic Running Up That Hill. Crystal clear orchestral arrangements and compassionate notes are present on this track and throughout the rest of the album. The album title track brims with optimism. Lyrics encourage you with the words “what’s gone is gone/so drop the bomb/this is a new world/don’t be afraid to love” It makes an uplifting moment on Look Out Machines!

Again tempo is key to keeping the album on track and more importantly keeping the listener’s attention. The track in mind is recent single Nail On The Head. It offers us a different angle on how Wilson displays his talents – both violins and piano collapse around pounding drums which gives the album a new depth. One of the highlights here is Stepping Stones – Wilson’s gravelly vocals are complemented nicely by a female singer which works really well.

By the end of the album, I think it’s fair to say that the message takes centre stage; the optimism in human endeavour. To triumph when faced with defeat from other sources, most noticeably from Look Out Machines!

Fans of Duke Special will not be disappointed with the latest slice of Wilson’s delicate and fragile musings. A well-honed and immaculately crafted album which serves as another impressive piece in the intriguing puzzle that he’s creating. Where this vaudevillian musical journey will take Duke Special next remains to be seen but I’m sure on the strength of these tracks there will be more people taking notice.

 

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