ALBUM REVIEW: Black Duck – Black Duck


Black Duck can best be described as a supergroup featuring as it does key members of the Chicago music scene such as guitarist/bassist Douglas McCombs (Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day), guitarist Bill MacKay (Broken Things, Sounds of Now), and drummer Charles Rumback (Colorlist, Leaf Bird). I confess to only really being familiar with McCombs due to his involvement in those bands who I’ve listened to for a number of years and hence why my interest was peaked when selecting this album for review purposes.


Despite not being together very long, they have featured at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, which has featured some pretty eclectic and experimental artists including Liturgy, Fennesz, The Necks, and Terry Riley, as well as playing with legendary Indie outfit Yo La Tengo. A pretty impressive pedigree I’m sure you’d agree.


Of the Lit Backyards has a dreamlike quality to it. Light brushwork on the drums combines rather beautifully with the stylish guitaring that takes in totality nods to woozy laid-back Psychedelia and Americana. There are also nods to Surf Music, in particular Finnish musician Pekka Laine‘s debut solo album The Enchanted Guitar of Pekka Laine – a delightfully laidback way to commence proceedings. ‘Foothill Daze’, at just over two minutes is the album’s shortest track, and takes you down an even mellower route. The waves of ambient ethereal distortion (an oxymoron I know) that I am met with give me serious Shoegaze/My Bloody Valentine vibes and as a fan of both that band and style, I was more than content with this.


‘Delivery’ is a little rougher sounding with a pretty cool bluesy jagged sound. Jimi Hendrix in his more experimental moments on Axis: Bold As Love and with Band of Gypsies spring to mind, and I feel that Yawning Man fans may get a slight kick out of this too as there are elements of that band’s dusty Desert Rock present. From there we are met with ‘Second Guess’, a track that taps into Talk Talk‘s sublime Laughing Stock with its jazzy style improvisations and proto-post-rock tendencies.



In comparison to the relatively more structured fare we have heard so far, its a lot more freeform and indicative of a band unafraid of venturing into more avant-garde waters. Sublime. ‘The Trees Are Dancing’ again taps into Americana but with a slightly more upbeat celebratory tone this time round. You could easily imagine a degree of audience participation with both head-nodding and gentle swaying motions taking place.


Possibly the closest Black Duck get to being ‘catchy’, and a pleasant contrast to the slightly more challenging fare of the preceding number ‘Second Guess’. ‘Thunder Fade That Earth Smells’ mixes free jazz ala James ‘Blood’ Ulmer/Prime Time (Ornette Coleman‘s backing band) with the tripped-out drones of latter-day Earth to spectacular effect while ‘Lemon Treasure’ is almost Kraut-rockian in its sound with nods to pulsating Komische influences such as Ash Ra Temple and Neu. A repetitive motorik motif that may confuse and tire some but not me.


‘Light’s New Measure’ the album’s longest track ends the album on a sprawling note. Musically reminiscent of the likes of Glenn Phillips, it is guitar noodling that has the potential to stray into self-indulgence but is luckily saved by the aforementioned Krautrock flourishes that help propel it forward instead of dissipating into pretentious oblivion.


I had little to no expectations of what to expect from Black Duck, but I can say I was very pleasantly surprised. Wonderfully executed, it’s definitely a record worthy of your time.


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8 / 10