Much like the UK’s own Weird Dreams, Real Estate member Matt Mondanile’s Ducktails project treads a fine vibrating line between psych-pop homage and plain ol’ pastiche. Simple, direct lyrics delivered through nursery rhyme melodies rub up against brilliantly complex instrumentation and purposely convoluted structure on The Flower Lane, Mondanile’s fourth full-length and his first major step out of the bedroom and into the wider world of studio collaboration.
The moments where he nods to Johnny Marr’s beauteous sound are among the finest here; on opener ‘Ivy Covered House’ with its mid-period Smiths chime and Flying Nun feel; or with the Big Star harmonies and squelching organ of the title track which tosses out sucked-air reverse snare and girlgroup bv’s in the second half to whip up a pretty special confection.
There’s much to enjoy in the now obligatory stylised Steely Dan haze of ‘Under Cover’, a song that first hints at sex but reveals itself to be more about insecurity and the loneliness of the night. Heartbeat-skipping rhythms, incongruous sax and metallic lead are somehow able to combine forces to lend the repetitive lyric a real resonance. It’s personal and potentially affecting despite the slack vocal and playground poem approach.
The superb cover of Peter Gutteridge’s (The Clean/The Chills) ‘Planet Phrom’ is a fantasy world trip-out that satisfies as much for its proto-baggy beats as its Lou Reed-momentarily-affected-by-optimism vocal.
Though the record leans heavily on guest spots and outside players there’s a consistency to both the sound and the material that is pleasing but can become a little staid – ‘Assistant Director’ forces a pack of Gitanes into the unwilling spectral hand of the ghost of The Style Council and ‘Sedan Magic’ which is really just a guitar part in search of a Paddy McAloon melody it simply doesn’t find, has Madeline Follin (Cults) making all the right noises but there’s no real content to speak of.
The danger of an artist being so in love with the style of delivery is that things drift into overly similar, repetitive territory and after the halfway point this does happen to an extent. Despite the fresh addition of Future Shuttle’s Jessa Farkas and Big Trouble’s Ian Drennan in duet mode on ‘Letter Of Intent’ the song itself feels like a simple echo of earlier tracks, a banal drone-pop exercise.
There’s much to enjoy in the brief ‘International Date Line’ – a simple hark back to the Ducktails’ sound of the past that leans on a terrific stop-start bassline that only ONCE in its 2 minute duration drops into a truly satisfying rhythm and tone – a flipped coin landing in the pocket of your jeans. Magic.
While closer ‘Academy Avenue’ is the only thing here with an organic band feel, its shuffling, Elephant 6 charm keeps it in line with the appeal of the rest of the best of the album.
For the most part, then, The Flower Lane is a glowing ember of a record that shares much of the spark of Mondanile’s “day job” band, but also a little of their occasional tendency toward stylistic appropriation over dedication to content and originality.