Album: Ducks Ltd – Modern Fiction review

by Chris Hatch

Ducks Ltd jangle hard on their latest album, Modern Fiction

It only takes a a few bars of album-opener, How Lonely Are You?, to realise two things: firstly, that Ducks Ltd have lost none of the sparkling catchiness of previous album, Get Bleak, and secondly, that they’ve found a sense of urgency and confidence that gives their newest record a momentum and impetus that augments their jangle-pop sound with a punkier, spikier edge.

Modern Fiction feels bigger and harder in every way. The skittery, drum-machine-like percussion of their earlier work is replaced with full-on cymbal splashes, punchy snare hits, and unrelenting hi-hats. Guitars are no longer gilded with warm golden tones, but, instead, edged with razor wire. Lead singer, Tom McGreevy’s vocals feel impassioned and heartfelt – what he lacks in vocal dexterity, he makes up for in honesty. There’s something romantic about the way he swings at every high note, but doesn’t always hit. It’s real and sincere – just like the album as a whole.

For those unfamiliar with Ducks Ltd, their sound is a tangle of C86 style sweetness, and roving, ragged pop sensibilities . It’s the airiness of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, the gritty jangle of The Replacements, and the complex, tessellating songwriting of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

Lead single, 18 Cigarettes, showcases their flair for sweeping, new wave tinged indie rock – its chorus grows with each listen – finding a place in your head to sit and stay for a while. Under The Rolling Moon is a swooning ballad – but, in the world of Ducks Ltd, even ballads are set against a backdrop of racing drums, spangly guitars, and lovesick lyrics. Fit To Burst comes in the form of a gnarled up ball of guitars – this is the point where they jangle hardest – they snake around each other and somersault towards the edge of being out of tune before hurtling back again. Towards the back of the record, Always There sees the Toronto band channel a hypnotic shamanism; its mesmeric refrain puts you in a trance that you’re eventually ripped out of by a giddy guitar outro – guitarist, Evan Lewis, giving Peter Buck a run for his money on the hammer-on and pull-off front.

With the success Get Bleak, it would be easy for Ducks Ltd to either make another record that sounds identical, or to take the leap and completely overhaul their sound. Instead they’ve used a compromise of the two – Modern Fiction still has an emphasis on a style of songwriting that mixes a sonic poppiness with an emotional malaise, but the whole thing (from the production, to the playing, to the vocal delivery) is done with more gusto. The diamonds on Modern Fiction are rougher round the edges, and caked in black dust, but underneath that tougher exterior they shine just as bright.

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