On their debut EP, Get Bleak, the Toronto-based duo made clear their modus operandi, a careful balancing of the joyous and the, you guessed it, bleak.
Calling to mind the jangle-pop of The Chills, The Clean and more recent acts such as Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Ducks Ltd’s sprightly melancholy was calming without being saddening, a beautiful and tender take on a range of unsettling topics.
“18 Cigarettes”, the first single from new album Modern Fiction, was the first indication that the duo’s debut full-length wasn’t going to veer too far from the same formula. Built around the type of skeletal instrumentation which defined that EP, the track sets into a groove of bouncing guitars and undulating bass lines, finding humour in its querying of how anyone can smoke a full pack of cigarettes, though revolving around the sensitive nostalgia expressed in the chorus, as vocalist/guitarist Tom McGreevy sings “I wanted things to stay as they would not stay”.
It’s a sentiment, and mood, which ultimately ends up characterising most of Modern Fiction. Opener “How Lonely Are You?” has definite Flying Nun vibes, featuring a cutting guitar line in the intro that adds wonderful dynamism to the track. The soft vocals and melodies result in a levity to the song, but its hooks and the tightness to the playing make it distinct, a description that applies to much of the music here.
“Old Times” boasts a particularly killer bass performance from Evan Lewis, while the lyrics again nod to a nostalgic longing for times gone by. Modern Fiction rarely devolves into out-and-out dourness, but it has a consistent, latent sense of melancholy, something Ducks Ltd. manage with impressive expertise, and which adds a welcome and affecting weight to their sound.
There are moments when the duo appear to blow away any persistent anxieties and revel in something akin to pure joy. Closer “Grand Final Day” is one such moment which, pushing lyrics such as “All of this was good until now” to one side, feels like a breath of fresh air, sounding as if unencumbered by fears or concerns. The enduring impression from Modern Fiction however is that of an attempt to balance competing emotions, in a quest to find pleasure in even the most unpleasant of circumstances. If not resilience, then that desire to appreciate conflicting forces, is to be commended on what is an invigorating and intensely rewarding release.