Ducktails is the solo (-ish) side project of Real Estate guitarist and Ridgewood, NJ native Matt Mondanile. It started out as a purely solo, mostly instrumental, home-recording effort and has since branched out into much more of a “band” with Mondanile guiding his collaborators along to produce dreamy bits of laid back pop. Things started to come together this way on the alternate version of the Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics cut, “Killin’ the Vibe,” which featured contributions from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) as well as Dent May. On the latest Ducktails release, The Flower Lane, you can hear the easy-going influence of that collaboration with Lennox and May on several of the tracks.
For a side or solo project to be successful, I think, the work has to retain some of the sound of the main band while allowing the members who are branching out to try some new things. The first part of that is a breeze for Mondanile as his looped, layered, and jangly guitar lines are one of the defining features of Real Estate’s sound. “Ivy Covered House” opens the album with those familiar sounds and could easily have appeared on Real Estate’s Days. Mondanile’s vocals even evoke those of his Real Estate bandmate, Martin Courtney.
Things move progressively further away from the Real Estate sound, though, with each track in a way that has to have been a conscious choice in terms of sequencing the record. Mondanile begins to branch out, adding some groovy keyboards to the standard Real Estate formula on the title track. By the time we reach the six-minute “Under Cover,” we’re into full-on funky disco, complete with a 1970’s game show flourish (that works), à la Dent May’s 2012 Do Things.
Mondanile’s cover of Peter Gutteridge’s (The Clean) “Planet Phrom” provides a quick indie jangle break, but then it’s right back into smooth grooving with “Assistant Director” and “Sedan Magic,” which gets a real boost from a guest spot by Cults’ Madeline Follin. Mondanile taps some of his other friends — Jessa Farkas (Future Shuttle) and Ian Drennan (Big Troubles) sharing vocals, Oneohtrix Point Never on synths — to produce one of the year’s best tracks so far with the beautiful “Letter of Intent.”
The album closes with a bit of a curve ball. “Academy Avenue” showcases Mondanile’s acoustic skills and features some cracked and creaky vocals that give it a lo-fi feeling when compared to the rest of the record’s overall polish.
The Flower Lane showcases Mondanile’s maturing skills as a crafter of pop. It contains much of what Mondanile contributes to Real Estate that makes that band a favorite of mine, while also covering some wildly different territory. The album is at its best, though, when Mondanile acts as maestro, assembling parts to produce something like “Letter of Intent.” In that way, I guess The Flower Lane is a lot like some of Mondanile’s early Ducktails work. He’s just pulling inspiration from a much wider space than his bedroom.
The Flower Lane is out now on Domino.