Real Estate’s guitarist, Matthew Mondanile, is the talent behind one-man side project Ducktails; where different sounds are united from within the aesthetic genres of ‘glo-fi’, ‘shitgaze’, ‘indie’, ‘balearic’, ‘chillwave’, (etc) and music’s textural clichés are spared. His earlier albums were released on cassette, driven by 60s fuzz and distortion and attracted plenty of attention from music blogs. The originality of his dazed guitars and exotic psychedelic sounds meant the recent release of Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics via Woodsist simply added further fuel to this fire of the media’s anticipation.
Although Ducktail’s lo-fi pedal trickery is at times criticised of being too closely related to Real Estate’s surf pop, the use of synth, guitar and a drum machine are the main differentiating factors, as well as that certain different touch of his. Mondanile’s skills lie with his ability to harmonise the instruments and vocals, creating textures and sounds that appear peculiarly satisfying. Take ‘The Razor’s Edge’ as an example, where synth leads distorted guitar through a calm sea of unfocused psych wobbles. Its execution is brilliant and is usually something that’s very hard to get right. Somehow, Ducktails just make it possible.
Mondanile’s detached vocals certainly aren’t his strong point, appearing flat in places (‘Hamilton Road’) but when weaved together with the song as a whole, prove to be a warming accompaniment. Tracks later in the album fare more justice to the vocals, utilising them to create memorable hooks. ‘Don’t Make Plans’ is honest-sounding, more melodic and less detached with lyrics of “I don’t make plans / I waste them, man.” An image of skipping in an idealistic flower-ridden field comes to mind but as the chorus subtly burrows its way to dominate the guitar and synth; the cheesy melodic vocals begin sounding like something that should be played at the beginning of a toddler’s TV show.
Thankfully the track ‘Art Vandelay’ shortly followed, restoring this album’s ‘hipster-street-cred’ – no one wants to listen to something that could be played to nursery kids… Adopting a verse/chorus/verse structure, the lines between Ducktails and Real Estate are further blurred and it is here where his musical maturity is made evident. ‘Killin the Vibe’ is another prime example of Mondanile’s memorable riffs and detached vocal melody. Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox (better known as Panda Bear) makes an appearance on the track, singing alongside Mondanile. The beat kick of a drum, soft shake of a tambourine and beautiful synthesis of the two styles make this track Arcade Dynamics‘ masterpiece.
The album carries with it a tone of ‘hypnagogic’ breezy summertime pop and mentions of things you’d associate with one’s childhood. It’s clear that the moving of time is a thing that still torments Mondanile’s thoughts and in turn his music takes you on a journey as fading memories coincide with the rise and fall of reverb and vocals. The collaboration with Panda Bear was a wise move and Mondanile’s ability to fuse all different kinds of genres is a rare sight, more so incredible that it’s all done by one single man. Who knows where he is to venture next with Ducktails? Maybe lyrical visions of the future for Ducktails IV, providing he moves on from his childhood memories of tree houses and 90s sitcoms…