Ducks Ltd. aren't the kind of band who take big swings or make ambitious left turns. Now two albums and an EP into their career, they've essentially been writing the same type of song since day one: jangly guitars, breakneck drums, and yearning lyrics that contrast the brightness of their pop melodies.
Sophomore album Harm's Way is a little twangier than 2021 debut Modern Fiction, but it's essentially a continuation of that previous LP's vintage C86 jangle pop — and it's better for it, because Ducks Ltd. do this type of music as well as anyone else.
The nine songs are loosely connected by themes of struggle in a world on the brink of falling apart, although singer Tom McGreevy never gets too specific with his lyrics. Rather, his cryptic metaphors express broad sentiments in such a unique way that they take on a sense of profundity, like the wistful longing he conveys in the aching refrain of "Deleted Scenes: "I see you in deleted scenes / Not in real life, not in dreams." The chug-a-lugging "Train Full of Gasoline" articulates self-destruction with a dizzying string of comparisons that race past like carriages on a bullet train: "There's always another dagger hidden in the sleeve / Another bullet in the magazine / A way to get yourself set / Up to roll back down the same long track / Set up to explode like a train full of gasoline."
Flourishes of violin and airborne harmonies adorn Harm's Way's clanging strums and chiming arpeggios, with acoustic closer "Heavy Bag" emphasizing the band's stately compositional lushness, befitting the lavish architecture that appears on the album cover. This kind of underground indie pop, with its roots in DIY music like Orange Juice and the Feelies, always has a hardscrabble edge — but Ducks Ltd. find the cinematic grandeur in their scrappy ditties.