Music Reviews
Harm's Way

Ducks Ltd. Harm's Way

(Carpark) Rating - 8/10

Known for their no holds barred freneticism, Ducks Ltd. opts to take things a little slower when Hollowed Out opens their second LP with an ode to ennui. “All we ever do is sleep/Eat, fuck, and sleep,” lead singer and guitarist Tom McGreevy sings with resigned acceptance, maintaining a calm demeanor against the emotional ebb and flow that keeps him from moving forward. McGreevy and his songwriting partner, Evan David Lewis, tackled similar subject matter on their debut full-length, Modern Fiction. But instead of just focusing on themselves, the Toronto duo also write about those close to them, evoking a sense of melancholy that permeates even deeper.

That's not to say the duo resists doubling down on their hook-driven, C86-inspired guitar pop. For every Hollowed Out, which borrows more from the Psychedelic Furs' gentle dramaticism than the Wedding Present, there's also The Main Thing, which moves at breakneck speed. “Living in a loop like we used to/Yeah, you're living in the ebb of time,” McGreevy laments, tapping into his frenzied headspace with sustained, fast-strummed guitars. The brisk pacing the duo employs throughout feels very much locked in, but they make an effort to broaden their scope. Train Full of Gasoline is a fair example of that evolution, which plays with punkier, quasi-dissonant jangle reminiscent of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

While McGreevey and Lewis frontload the album's most prominent singles, they mask the less impressionable second half with deceptive simplicity. Deleted Scenes is Ducks Ltd.'s first true centerpiece in their career, on which they discard a more familiar song structure with emboldened guitar solos and a plaintive finale that fades in after one's led to believe it's concluded. The stories get more specific on the title track and A Girl, Running, where McGreevy tries to make sense of situations that feel unjust. While the notes he introduces often feel solemn, McGreevy performs them with a vibrant delivery that makes these characters sound positively triumphant and, most importantly, worth rooting for.

Clocking in at a brisk 28 minutes, Harm's Way unfolds with not a minute wasted, similar to Weezer's Green Album. And while they couldn't be more far apart in tone and ambition, they're comparable in how they progress with limited dynamic range and a generous amount of hooks. The duo does leave room for a surprise finish in the acoustic-led Heavy Bag, which bodes well for their future as they forge ahead. But when their music is already this tight and carefully considered, why not just play to your strengths for the time being?