Reading Duck‘s description of themselves on their Bandcamp would make you think they were trying to eschew any sense of artifice. And, okay, “wonky DIY synth/guitar queer noisepop” might give you some sense of where the group are coming from: after all, they did call their first EP sLaCk gOb. But, whilst sophmore effort, There Are No Normal Conversations Any More, does demonstrate elements that could be termed wonky, it’s a far more well-rounded piece than that sobriquet suggests.
For a start, in the vein of many of the great long-players, its tracks all mesh, following directly into each other like some kind of orchestral suite, rather than sitting as disparate moves in one direction or another. Sure, they all feature synths – but there’s range, in the squelch of opener ‘R*ck St*r’, the lightning strike electropunk of ‘C/Rage’ and the cold clinicism of Millennial torch song, ‘Meta’. The guitars too, can give you C86 on ‘New Super Power’ with its overdrive and squealing, the driving post-punk of album standout ‘Rabbit Hole’ or the surf rock of the album’s title track.
The only thing that doesn’t really change here, and arguably Duck’s not-so-secret weapon, is Sarah Griffith’s Moyet meets Corin Tucker harmonies and heft. Sometimes the voice sticks out – the double-meaning pun of ‘Sirens’ is a case in point – and at others it’s allowed to drop back into the mix. There are screams and hollers on some tracks, but by the time the album hits an ’80s power-pop stride on ‘I’m Alive’ and ‘Sweetheart’, the vocals come encased in honey.
Perhaps the most unexpected element to the album is its outwardly pop sensibilities. There’s bits and pieces of DIY, but also aspects that wouldn’t sound out of place on records by Cocteau Twins or Soft Cell, not least the hand-claps in ‘New Super Power’, the Vince Clarke-y electronic harmonies found throughout and the occasionally sombre tone to the album’s slower songs.
Duck make extensive use of found sounds too: applause and giggles at the end of ‘New Super Power’; the garbled speech on ‘There Are No Normal Conversations Anymore’ (which makes a sort of sense in the context of its title) and, most prominently, the crowd noise on ‘Mouths Move’ which was recorded at Fuck It Why Not, a DIY festival in Leeds’ Hyde Park. For a release on a tiny indie label, this is stunningly well-produced and put together.
In a Sound Sphere interview from 2018, Duck list their band’s ambitions as “to work with people we want to work with, play with bands we want to play with, to a fun, appreciative audience, free of dickheads. Also, to never be part of an otherwise all-male line-up again…” Having just spent some time listening to this bravura effort, it’s almost strange to see that two years ago, Duck were merely happy to have a space to play. It probably says a lot about the times we’re in that, all of a sudden, self-described ‘wonky queer noisepop’ is the best response. Thank fuck, then, for Duck.
There Are No Normal Conversations Any More is out now via Hell Hath No Fury Records.