It's nearly impossible to listen to The Mallard's final album without feeling a sense of impending doom. But the San Francisco band has always written songs that veer into strange, slightly menacing directions, and its sophomore album, Finding Meaning in Deference, contains some of its best material yet.
The Mallard has often been lumped into the garage-rock category, perhaps because John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees released both of the band's albums on his Castle Face label, but that's a simplistic label for a complicated band. Its debut album, Yes on Blood, had the lo-fi sensibility of garage rock but none of its whimsy, opting for a bleaker, starker sound. In its live shows, where the band most excelled, The Mallard was pure aggression: Frontwoman Greer McGettrick's echo-laden vocals bounced around ear-splitting reverb. The band's affinity for darkness and distortion completely takes over on Finding Meaning in Deference, at times capturing the raw quality that made its performances so gripping.
Opener "A Form of Mercy" pairs a driving drumbeat and tinny-sounding guitar with McGettrick's anxious, barely intelligible chanting. For the majority of the album, her voice sounds as if it was recorded inside a cave, with the exception of "Crystals & Castles," the album's most straightforward rock track. The post-punk haze creates a certain distance, like a chill in the air, but "Out the Door" manages to stir some emotion, with a quiet melody that grows more erratic and loud as McGettrick wails, If there's a way that I should feel, let me know. Everything explodes appropriately on the closer, "Iceberg," in which layers of noisy guitar, pulsing drums, and McGettrick's manic ranting pound away for six minutes, unrelenting and uncompromising, much like the band itself. (Castle Face Records)