The Mallard’s sophomore effort, Finding Meaning in Deference, is doomed to be colored by the circumstances of its release. In April, after a rough tour, some cancelled shows, and an increasing sense of disenchantment with her music, frontwoman Greer McGettrick announced that she’d be pulling the plug on the Bay Area post-punk outfit. The Mallard’s final show would be April 18 in San Francisco. Their final album would come out this summer, and that would be the last we’d hear of The Mallard.
With all of this in mind, it’s hard not to listen to Finding Meaning in Deference as a sort of goodbye letter—or, for the bleaker-minded among us, as The Mallard’s suicide note, written on the cusp of implosion. There are signs that could point you in that direction—a song entitled “Just An Ending,” a darker tone than the group’s debut, Yes On Blood, and the Rorschach test provided by the album’s mostly unintelligible lyrics. But ultimately, the urge to read the album this way is a bit of a dead end. Sure, it’s the Mallard’s swan song (an “ugly duckling” joke here would be tasteless), but it’s also well produced, tastefully psychedelic, and contagious in the energy department—I caught myself engaging in some subtle wiggling as I tried to pound out this review.
As on 2012’s Yes On Blood, we are treated to Greer McGettrick’s melodic holler and an accompaniment that is equal parts Television and The Velvet Underground—rhythmically consistent, with a pop sensibility that keeps us hooked while a just-right amount of noise keeps us from getting too comfortable. This time around, the energy is there but the mood is different—where Yes On Blood flirted with the sunnier side of psychedelia on tracks like “Ants” and “Vines,” Finding Meaning in Deference keeps things relatively dark. Production-wise, the overall tone of the album is warm and even, and the guitars remain settled mostly in the lower end. There’s nothing jangly or sunny going on here—at moments on “A Form of Mercy” and especially on “The Communist,” the music takes on a dark, synthy ambience. The album’s harshest moment is the outro of “Gestur,” which consists of robotic bloops and screeches best described, without valued judgment, as “unpleasant.”
The Mallard are at their best on the tracks on which the darkness of the album collides with the contagious energy that marked the band’s live show. Namely, the fasterpaced “Decade” and the album’s noisy, hypnotic closer, “Iceberg.” With the sonic decay at the end of the album, The Mallard throws down the microphone and storms offstage. McGettrick says she doesn’t see a reunion in the future, but as this album gets around, maybe it becomes a case of Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.