Toronto duo Ducks Ltd. wasted no time issuing their mission statement on debut album Modern Fiction. The first sound on opening track "How Lonely Are You?" is a wall of bright multi-tracked guitars firing off a barrage of nervous, ever so slightly melancholic chords. It's jangle pop excellence from the first few seconds, opening up into a powerful but compact rush of simple drum machine rhythms, melodic basslines, and layers of smart vocal hooks. The song is here and gone in less than three minutes, beginning an album of thoughtfully constructed tracks that take notes from some of indie pop's best artists. Over the course of Modern Fiction's streamlined runtime, Ducks Ltd. channel the Go-Betweens' wistfulness on tunes like "Sullen Leering Hope," or the overcast instrumental "Patience Wearing Thin," while tapping into the restrained bluster of New Zealand college rock heroes like the Clean, the Verlaines, and the Bats on dour but melodic rockers like "Old Times," and "Fit to Burst." The best moments of Modern Fiction highlight Ducks Ltd.'s talent for writing deceptively intricate songs that feel like simple pop until they're closely inspected. "18 Cigarettes," one of the best songs here, unfolds from straightforward upbeat strumming into a web of increasingly complex guitar leads and floating falsetto vocal hooks. It's a song where every new part would suffice as a satisfying chorus, so when the actual chorus arrives, it's almost shockingly catchy. Much of Modern Fiction is similarly built, making it essential for fans of the bands Ducks Ltd. look to for inspiration, but it's also more than just a studied homage to jangle pop past. The band injects their own perspectives -- both lyrical and compositional -- into Modern Fiction, giving the songs personal angles and emotional color that place them very much in the now.
(CD - Carpark Records #CAK 158CD)
Review by Fred Thomas