“I woke up one morning, more or less covered in blood. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t really remember who it belonged to,” Jack Holldorff says of the story behind “All Out On You,” the second single from Duvel’s self-titled sophomore album.
No need for concern, though, as Holldorff appears to be more than capable of seeing the funny side of potential catastrophe. “I made a couple of phone calls, and it was all sorted out. The lyrics sort of came to me after that incident. That sounded a lot darker than I thought it would.”
It’s this almost-whimsical sense of nonchalance that permeates Duvel throughout its brisk 30-minute runtime, making for a breezy, effortless, and profoundly joyful listen. On their self-titled, sophomore album, the Oslo-based quartet constantly strive to dazzle and entertain, offering up nine hook-laden tracks of effervescent Brit-pop and chameleonic post-punk.
Following the release of their debut, 2018’s Attempts at Speech, Duvel crowned themselves the “alpha-dandys of the Oslo underground,” thanks in small part to their well-rounded take on minimalist post-punk. It’s a bold claim, to be sure, but one that’s not entirely unfounded. The band trace their formation to Blitz House, an anarcho-communist youth centre in Oslo’s Meyerløkka district, and Holldorff often channels this raucous, middle-finger-at-the-man spirit into brash tales of suburban boredom and scattershot non-sequiturs.
Still, it might be difficult for those uninitiated to buy into Duvel’s self-proclaimed top-dog bluster when the group’s members scarcely look old enough to sit at a bar.
With Holldorff’s charismatic delivery and sleek vocal melodies as their focal point, the quartet pull from a creative wellspring of influence and stylistic verve that appears to belie age altogether. At its core, Duvel plays out as a lush homage to post-2000s indie and Brit-pop, a sound indebted to the legacy of acts like The Stone Roses and Echo and the Bunnymen, alongside nods to Bloc Party, Elbow, and Razorlight.
With the addition of new member Kaspar Nikolaisen Hegre, Duvel scaffold robust layers of keys and synths to Holldorff’s relentless arpeggiated refrains, alongside bassist Zacharias Flaathe, and drummer Brage Lindebrekke’s propulsive rhythm section.
Right from the start, Duvel pick up the Silent Alarm playbook and effectively run away with it. Lead single “Hong Kong Sex Toy Store” and “Church Bells” benefit greatly from aching, jangly guitars contrasted against Flaathe’s thrumming bottom end and Lindebrekke’s lock-step rhythms. Adding ghost accents and punctuated notes to Holldorff’s dynamic vocal lines, Hegre’s contributions on the record take flight through the twinkly choruses of “All Out of You” and “Human,” adding bright, colourful hues to Duvel’s emotional spectrum as Holldorff navigates the liminal spaces between “ecstasy and ruin.”
The most conventional ballad of the nine tracks on offer here, the plaintive “U” hinges on substance abuse and rejection, giving Holldorff a chance to go full Ian Curtis before swaggering straight into the saloon ditty “Rooftops,” rendered in playful detail with folksy organ and horns.
Backed by a driving chorus, “Broken Bottles” finds Holldorff casually crooning about breaking into cars and swiping stereos for petty cash over what’s functionally a bouncy surf-pop tune. The track’s towering bridge rests on shimmering guitars and swirling atmospherics, allowing Holldorff to gradually build his aimless melancholy into a righteous burst of solidarity (“Nothing but us! Ah! Ah!”).
Elsewhere, “Elephant Island” manages to spin an oblique reference to the Shackleton expedition into forlorn desire, dressed up for a night on the town and a morning in the gutter with warbling synths, a biting groove and Holldorff’s flirtatious falsetto.
After a 12-month period that felt in every tangible way like an entire decade’s worth of psychic distress, it’s fitting then that a record like Duvel would coalesce in our current moment. Contemporary post-punk’s most promising heavy hitters all seem to reflect this collective sense of world-weariness, whether it’s through Shame’s interior navel-gazing, IDLES’s snarling ferocity, or Iceage’s descent into pop-gothic grandeur and Nick Cave aphorisms.
By contrast, Duvel feels like a luminous ray of sunshine breaking through heavy fog. Even just a cursory listen to the album makes it immediately apparent that these rowdy Norwegians were always destined for more than just idle Joy Division worship. What these lush compositions may lack in raw originality and experimentation, they more than make up with tight arrangements and an overwhelming mood of intoxicating euphoria. After all, who needs doom and gloom when you can dance?
Purchase and stream Duvel here.