The Flower Lane
, February 1st, 2013 12:22
For a while now, the music of New Jersey's Matt Mondanile, recording under the Ducktails alias, has been moving away from the freeform guitar and synth jams and embryonic sketches of his early cassette releases, towards the more conventional song structures of his other band, Real Estate. Fittingly The Flower Lane, Mondanile's fourth album as Ducktails and first for Domino, finds him emerging as a proper songwriter in his own right. No longer a solo venture, The Flower Lane features contributions from 1990s indie revivalists Big Troubles (who also serve as his backing band live), Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never, Joel Ford (Ford & Lopatin), Jessa Farkas of Future Shuttle and Madeline Follin of Cults, with the whole shebang produced by Al Carlson (Peaking Lights, Yeasayer).
But it soon becomes apparent that this progression is not a necessarily a good thing. Opener 'Ivy Covered House' could be a reject from the last Real Estate album, Days, with Mondanile's signature twanging, reverb-heavy guitar sound, languid pacing and tale of unrequited love (key emotion – yearning). “Well hello it's me again,” he sings. “I'm at your door come let me in.” It's tempting to slam that door in his face and pause a while to lament what Ducktails once stood for – an enjoyably kitsch amalgamation of deft surf guitar solos, washed-out synths and tropical melodies.
Likewise the title track, a disposable sliver of juvenile psychedelia with a wistful melody conceived in Haight Ashbury, isn't a million miles away from Real Estate. Nor is 'Timothy Shy', with its sighing Beatlesy string parts, chugging rhythm and whimsical sixth-form lyricism – “When I see you my eyes turn blue.” Must. Try. Harder. The lo-fi acoustic closer, 'Academy Avenue', is the worst of the songs in this style; another hackneyed, lovelorn tale that references a place.
But all is not lost. 'Planet Phrom' is a pleasing jangle in thrall to the C86 artists that inspired Mondanile's original adventures in tape. It's a timely cover of a song by Peter Gutteridge of Flying Nun alumni The Chills, the label whose catalogue is about to be reissued in conjunction with the US indie Captured Tracks. There's more sumptuous jangling on 'Sedan Magic', with Madeline Follin of Cults coming over all Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays over Mondanile's nimble picking. In fact, there's an argument for the album to exist solely for the opportunity to hear Mondanile play guitar. There's a more obvious deviation on 'Under Cover' as Mondanile and the gang get their freak on, with shimmering Chic guitar licks, a sinuous bassline and dreamy, seductive vocals. “Do you want to go under the covers?” Mondanile softly croons, without sounding like it's an offer to read Salinger by torchlight and eat Twinkies. Nope, he has carnal relations on his mind, and a kaleidoscopic high-register riff and sleazy 1980s soft rock sax suggest that copulation has been achieved. The funk vibes continue on 'Assistant Director', with its low-slung bass groove and futuristic synth stabs, with Mondanile demonstrating his versatility on a staccato lick Andy Summers of The Police would be happy to put his name to.
The New Wave synthpop of 'Letter Of Intent' is the best of the bunch, for which Mondanile has assembled the hypnagogic dream team of Ford and Lopatin on bass and synths, with Future Shuttle's Jessa Farkas sharing vocals with Ian Drennan of Big Troubles. Lopatin's dazzling synths intertwine perfectly with Farkas' pure delivery. This is sexy, seductive future-pop – an entire album in this style would have been a far more interesting proposition.
Mondanile has equated The Flower Lane to a Woody Allen movie; “weird, desolate Manhattan romances”, but unfortunately it's more Match Point than Annie Hall. The Flower Lane is far from a failed endeavour, but something special has been lost in the graduation from bedroom to studio.