In some ways, you know what you’re getting with the new record from Toronto duo Ducks Ltd. Tom McGreevy (vocals/bass/rhythm guitar) and Evan Lewis (lead guitar) have been making music together since 2019, initially under a name you can probably guess—let’s just say they had to limit their number of ducks. Amounts of avians aside—not to mention their career hitting the skids due to the pandemic—the duo used 2021 as a reset point: getting signed, re-releasing their wonderful debut EP Get Bleak and making plans for their debut album, which finally arrived near the end of that year. Modern Fiction found them making up for lost time, really getting a handle on their trademark juxtaposition of breezy melody and downcast lyricism.
More than two years on, quite a bit has changed for McGreevy and Lewis—for example, the amount of shows they’ve played is in the hundreds, as opposed to single digits back in 2019—but just as much hasn’t. Like its predecessor, Harm’s Way doesn’t even top half an hour in length, its nine songs taking as direct a route as possible, and its character studies dealing in tear-soaked realism. Ducks Ltd. prefer to do things the hard way; per McGreevy, “these are songs about struggling. About watching people I care for suffer, and trying to figure out how to be there for them.”
Beneath the breezy exterior of many of these songs, a palpable tension and sense of anxiety lurks. McGreevy sings of feeling ‘Hollowed Out’ on the album opener, a song about being stretched to breaking point, ‘all of it getting harder and harder to explain’. It’s not necessarily pessimism they traffic in, but it makes the bright melodies and snappy instrumentation stand out all the more. Much of the record trades in revivalist indie pop fare – it’s a pretty crowded field these days, but cutting through the noise is something Ducks Ltd. do better than most.
Whether it’s pushing tempo to 215bpm on mid-album juggernaut ‘On Our Way to the Rave’ or distilling their essence into the razor-sharp songwriting of ‘Train Full of Gasoline’, a hymn to everyday drudgery and rinse-and-repeat cycles from which we can’t seem to break free—about getting through what you’re going through—McGreevy and Lewis attack these songs with the kind of passion and drive that feeds into the urgent nature of the record. These are undeniably sad and moving songs; self-evident if you spend five minutes with the lyric sheet, but just because things got bleak doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.
In terms of the ‘difficult second album’ cliché, Harm’s Way sidesteps any particular pitfalls by providing the platonic ideal of a Ducks Ltd. record – would that more albums had the confidence and drive that this one does. Brought to life with their live iteration (completed by touring drummer Jonathan Pappo and bassist Julia Wittman), and featuring members of such bands as Patio, Dummy & touring buddies Ratboys, the album opts for subtle evolution over drastic reinvention. In and out in under 28 minutes with not a second wasted—typifying the pair’s poise and purpose, no longer unlimited in name, but certainly in nature.
Order Harm’s Way by Ducks Ltd. HERE
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