January 27, 2013

Album Review: Ducktails' The Flower Lane


When Real Estate left the smaller pastures of the NYC-based label Woodsist and signed with Domino in 2011 before the release of Days, it wasn't just the breezy lo-fi jangle from the New Jersey quartet's music that the massive international indie was interested in, as the package deal also included future releases from bassist Alex Bleeker's Alex Bleeker and the Freaks project alongside the wildly experimental and mostly instrumental guitar pop sounds from Matt Mondanile's solo outing, Ducktails. Mondanile has quietly been recording under the latter since his college days at Hampshire College, usually under low production costs and little to no help from any other artists, making Domino's interest in this jaunt a bit peculiar since it tends to be in the business of putting out bigger-sounding music to fit right in with their catalog of Animal Collectives and Hot Chips. On Mondanile's latest, The Flower Lane, the Real Estate six-stringer consciously takes this into account by rebooting the Ducktails brand into a slicked-up band effort by bringing fellow Jersey indie poppers Big Troubles in to back him up as well as a spread of friendly guest spots, with the finished product being one sharply disconnected from its previous lineage of hazy listens.

The production quality and tuneful upgrades aren't so much the surprise here on The Flower Lane as opposed to the slight stylistic swerves Mondanile throws at listeners, considering Ducktails' admirable 2010 effort Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics came off as his most cohesive and settled collection of down-tuned lo-fi psych-pop jams yet. The Flower Lane features a few songs in that vein -- albeit, in their most completest sense to date thanks to Big Troubles fleshing out the studio -- with album opener "Ivy Covered House", its subsequent title track and the instrumental "International Date Line," but also takes a few unexpected detours along the way that would all feasibly bode well for the project if they didn't give you the suspicion that it's in the midst of reconfiguring its direction. "Under Cover" is a dazzling highlight fashioned from sensual disco synth textures, later reemerging on the tail-end track "Assistant Director" and "Sedan Magic" (featuring Madeline Follin of Cults on vocals.) "Planet Phrom" and closer "Academy Avenue" on the other hand showcase Mondanile's under-the-influence guitar work in a hash cloud hot-boxed by influence from the Flaming Lips' early catalog, while an appearance from Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin and his Ford & Lopatin cohort Joel Ford on "Letter of Intent" appropriating these same smoky soundscapes for a computer age with gooey blips and bleeps.

Up until this release, the focus of Ducktails' outputs revolved around creating a sensory-inducing listening experience defined by quiet lo-fi production and a gauzy feel fit to zone out to and conjure up seasonably warm imagery. Matt Mondanile has drastically overhauled his bedroom solo project away from all of this on Ducktails' latest LP by reinventing the project's purpose as a splintered one making crisp and well-rounded variations of indie pop that always get high with a little help from his friends. That's partially an applause to him as a songwriter, as The Flower Lane finds Mondanile a confident frontman way past the point of hiding his voice behind sprawling psych-pop instrumentation, and yet, a setback, as too many new faces and sounds in the mix give this revamped version of the band an identity crisis. I wouldn't want to see Matt Mondanile scaling Ducktails back to being a pure solo effort, as Big Troubles' addition fills out the album's sunnier guitar pop-focused tracks. Next time around, however, it might benefit Mondanile to invite fewer co-conspirators into the studio, reign in the scope of pop and re-focus the listen into a cohesive experience rather than one more akin to a collaborative mixtape.


Ducktails' The Flower Lane will be released January 29, 2013 on Domino Records.

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