Ducks Ltd.
Photo: Colin Medley / Chromatic PR

Ducks Ltd. Use Music to Stay Out of ‘Harm’s Way’

Ducks Ltd. aren’t pessimists as much as realists. Harm’s Way serves as evidence of the power of music to redeem and bring us together.

Harm's Way
Ducks Ltd.
9 February 2024

Ducks Ltd. may hail from Toronto, but on the duo’s latest full-length album, Harm’s Way, they sound like they come from the underground UK pop scene from the 1980s. Their electric guitar-based power pop shimmers with fast, jittery riffs and propulsive percussion reminiscent of acts like Orange Juice, XTC, and even the Smiths. There’s something captivating about the energetic movement inherent in that style, as expressed through the amplified stringed instrument. The music is simultaneously fresh and in the continuous present, as well as based on the history of rock. The result is always propulsive, even when the licks are purposely repetitive.

Evan Lewis plays lead guitar and drum programming on all tracks, bass and acoustic guitar on several cuts, and sometimes sings. Tom McGreevy takes lead vocals and plays rhythm guitar on all tracks and sometimes keys, bass, and acoustic. A host of additional musicians on selected cuts on everything from cello, violin, drums, and backup vocals join the duo. The duo and company make a loud noise yet keep the arrangements clean. Ducks Ltd. co-produced the album with Chicago-based recording engineer Dave Vettraino.

The nine tracks are relatively brisk and generally run about three minutes long. The short(ish) time spans fit the urgency expressed. As a whole, McGreevy’s lyrics suggest the world is falling apart on both micro and macro levels. We hurt each other even as we search for meaning and a better existence. In the promo notes, McGreevy explains that the songs are “About watching people I care for suffer and trying to figure out how to be there for them. And about the strain of living in the world when it feels like it’s ready to collapse”. With Lewis’ hand on the whammy bar and McGreevy’s lips tightly pressed together, the two capture the general zeitgeist of modern life.

Harm’s Way begins with the narrator complaining about feeling “Hollowed Out”. McGreevy cynically sings, “All we ever do is need, eat, fuck and sleep and then repeat forever” over a martial beat. The electric guitar accompaniment earnestly declares the pressure of just existing. This theme, the difficulty of just being without being beaten down, continues throughout the record. There’s little beyond the nothingness of just subsisting.

Ducks Ltd. aren’t pessimists as much as realists. Harm’s Way serves as evidence of the power of music to redeem. The duo doesn’t offer false hope. But the duo also don’t believe we are all doomed. The songs have an upbeat vibe because of the vitality of their playing and singing. There is a latent pop element to their sound. It’s like that old trope about how the blues makes the artists and the audience happy. The need to vent provides an essential service for all.

Or, as the band explains in “Train Full of Gasoline”, we are “Bonded by an emptiness / Shared sense of dull dead-endedness.” The world may be full of danger – as the title song reminds us, we are always in “Harm’s Way”- but most people aren’t out to get you. We are all lonely together, which is better than being alone. There’s the power of music to bring us together.

RATING 7 / 10