Album Reviews

Ducktails – The Flower Lane

on January 31, 2013, 12:01am
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Ducktails was born out of the DIY Massachusetts cassette-trading scene back in 2006, during Matthew Mondanile’s senior year in college. Those recordings – better described as bedroom noodlings – were scarcely distributed and genuinely sound like they were pieced together with garage sale electronics and made for 10 of his friends. Four albums later, this dingy dorm room side-venture has blossomed into a full band effort. On The Flower Lane, Mondanile proves this by sheer numbers, touting an A-list cast of supporting musicians including Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Madeline Follin (Cults), Jessa Farkas (Future Shuttle), as well as members of his primary group, Real Estate, and members of Big Troubles.

It’s this collaborative energy that ultimately defines the record, which dips its toes into everything from major key yacht rock to electronica worthy of the Drive soundtrack. 2011’s equally solid Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics proved a turning point for this not-so-solo project, but it was his post-album collaboration with Panda Bear on an alternate take of “Killin’ The Vibe” that is The Flower Lane’s most important pre-cursor. This a-ha moment for Mondanile showed his blossoming potential outside of bedrooms and tape decks, and still remains the best song in the Ducktails discography.

Mondanile’s move across the river from his native New Jersey to New York City also played a strong role in shaping the sound of The Flower Lane. In the album’s press release, he calls the project “an isolated, City-Of-A-Million-People concept, of these weird, desolate Manhattan romances. Like the idea of a Woody Allen movie, or something.” Breezy opener “Ivy Covered House” is a love story peppered with lines like “You’ll never spend another night alone” and “You can whisper in my ear / Words so precious and so dear.” You can practically envision modern, hipster versions of Alvie Singer romancing Annie Hall outside of a tall West Village brownstone.

These visions of romance are a new venture for Mondanile. His work with Real Estate centers around carefree suburban bliss, and until Arcade Dynamics, the majority of his songs under the Ducktails moniker were entirely instrumental. Instead of blending these new muses into his old model, many of the tracks on The Flower Lane blaze a new path. The organ-heavy title track answers the question of what Steely Dan would sound like if they lived in Greenpoint. Similarly, “Under Cover” clocks in at over six minutes and comes complete with a too-corny-for-mockery sax solo. Moments like these sound better suited for an Upper West Side piano bar than a Jersey garage. They are risky moves, no doubt – but Mondanile mostly pulls it off thanks to the fact that he never totally loses sight of his haze-filled suburban roots. The subject matter and outer layers may have changed, but his strongest suit remains ever-present.

His most successful genre cherry-pick happens on lead single, “Letter of Intent”, which features Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin on synths, and guest vocals from Jessa Farkas of Future Shuttle. The electro-pop gem is the type of track that makes you think you’re about to see a brooding Ryan Gosling drive by wearing a scorpion jacket. Even with Farkas’ lead vocals and the minimal guitar work, Mondanile’s hand can be strongly felt in the hypnotic progression. It’s this perpetual nonchalance that has become his trademark, fostering multiple replays.

More than anything else, The Flower Lane is an honest-to-god pop record. That’s saying something considering it came from a guy who until two years ago almost exclusively dealt with washed out instrumentals. Though it suffers from some occasional hiccups (the transition from “Letter of Intent” to acoustic ditty “Academy Avenue” is noticeably awkward), Mondanile has never sounded more in charge and confident with his craft.

Essential tracks: “Ivy Covered House”, “Planet Phrom”, and “Letter of Intent”

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