NEW SOUNDS: DUCKS! – ‘Things That Were Lost’ LP + 5 Albums that inspired their sound
‘Things That Were Lost’ is available now @ Bandcamp.
by Walter Price
Dynamic dance and dreamy music-making duo Ducks! have just dropped their highly anticipated new album, ‘Things That Were Lost’. Fifteen brilliantly crafted tracks guided by the wizardry of Craig Schuftan and deep-rooted and emotional storylines told in the enthralling voice of Lani Bagley. And as fresh and of the now this album is, you’ll also find honorable and subtle odes to music heroes like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Chris & Cosey, to name a few. And on one of my favorite tracks on this release, “Delivery”, you’ll hear a vocal nod to 1986, Paul Simon.
No hyperbole intended as I go on record in saying that this, so far, is the best album of 2019. You can stream the LP below, but first, the band shared 5 Albums that helped influence them over the years.
Basement Jaxx is one of the first things we agreed on and this album in particular. I think there was a lot wrapped up in that moment; just learning that Lani felt the same way about this album that I did tell me that there were a lot of things we wouldn’t need to discuss when we were making music. Like, for example, we wouldn’t have to argue about what genre something was, or what kind of sounds are appropriate for dance music, or how many sounds a given track could happily incorporate because Basement Jaxx never seemed to care about any of that stuff. Every track evokes about three different genres at once, and if they ever do stay in one place for more than 20 seconds, it’s only to set you up for a surprise at the next turn. In other words, they make the most carefully constructed and artfully sequenced chaos in creation. And this album is just the perfect cocktail of all the things that made them great; bombast and delicacy, lush songs and insane noise.
Lani’s voice often reminds me a little bit of Laetitia Sadier’s; not so much the actual sound, but the way she puts across a mood or an idea without resorting to any of the typical tricks of ‘emotional’ singing. It’s strong, but cool, as though the action of the song is happening at some distance from the singer; the intensity doesn’t come from ‘passion’ (or the things that usually signify it) but from other things, like the use of harmonies, or rhythm. And I think in general, the way Stereolab deploy vocals in their music has influenced us a lot; their songs have a cut-up, surreal quality, and a kind of circular structure where things repeat, but also develop slowly over time. ‘Lung’ on the new album definitely started out with this approach in mind (though it ended up somewhere quite different), and ‘Give Me One More’ I think also shows the influence of Emperor Tomato Ketchup and its stealthy ways.
I think we’ve learned a lot from this album, and we have a lot more to learn, still. Mostly what I think it’s taught us is patience; how to take an idea and develop it over time, in its own time. Massive Attack always sounded like they weren’t in a hurry. But at the same time, you always felt like something was at stake, there was some strange unsettled emotion behind it that couldn’t be resolved. I guess it’s the difference between lazy trip-hop and ‘Protection’ or ‘Portishead’ or Lamb’s ‘Fear of Fours’ (which we also love); that tension between the calm, careful placement of sounds and the feeling of building unease behind them. On ‘Heligoland’, that tension is pushed even further, and the music mutates into some really weird shapes as a result, like ‘Rush Minute’, which sounds like the ghost of a punk song, or ‘Flat of the Blade’ which starts with this extremely disorienting contrast of very dry vocals and wobbly synths. When Ducks! started, it had only recently become acceptable to talk about trip-hop as an influence again, and we definitely enjoyed exploring that sound-world on songs like ‘Für Immer’, ‘Giant World’ and ‘Into the Sea’. But we were listening to a lot more to ‘Heligoland’ than to ‘Blue Lines’ or ‘Mezzanine’, and I think it shows.
One of the things all these albums have in common is that they present really cohesive self-contained little worlds that make total sense in their own terms while also being somewhat bizarre. ‘Halo’ is another record like that, it obeys this strange internal logic, so all the weird things that happen in it seem just right for their time and place. This is quite a new one for us, so we’re still figuring out what it means for us, and it’s probably not an influence you’ll hear for a while. But it’s definitely that the case that we’ve been changed by spending some time in Juana’s world, and even more so after seeing her play live at the end of last year. She’s so inventive and makes such singular choices with her sounds and arrangements. I think she’s encouraged us to be braver and to have more faith in our own weird ideas.
I think Lani put it best when she said there’s no song on this record that would give you any indication as to what the others would be like. There’s hip hop collage, dreamy Disney soundtrack lushness, plastic punk-pop, and weirdy-beardy IDM madness. I guess you could say that it sounds like he couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted to do, but what’s wrong with that? I think one of the fun things about being in a band is that you get to learn how music works by trying new things – you get the feeling something is going in a certain direction and then see if you can do it. And you don’t really have to worry about whether it’s going to sound ‘like you’, because, well, how could it not? That’s definitely the case with ‘Fantasma’, there are lots of different styles, but everything is done in the style of Cornelius. And there’s a kind of modesty or humility in his approach that stops it from being bombastic; just when things get really epic or symphonic, he’ll throw in a crappy keyboard cat solo or a deliberately ‘naked’ vocal recording that puts you right in the Shibuya closet where he recorded it. He’s an inspiration to bedroom electronica producers everywhere.
THINGS THAT WERE LOST
band-Wildlife photography by Harriet Richardson