Review: Ducktails, St. Catherine

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Considering he’s now a poster-boy for the type of lazy, hazy music championed by the likes of Mac Demarco, you’d be forgiven for thinking Matt Mondanile is an idle and work-shy kinda guy. New album St. Catherine though, the latest LP under his Ducktails signature, is his fifth in as many years. At least when you include his work as guitarist with Jersey’s most chill indie-rock outfit, Real Estate. That’s the kind of prodigious work ethic that would make prolific artists like Kurt Vile and Ryan Adams dip their hats in approval.

Many artists choose to use solo projects to showcase their more experimental tendencies. And Ducktails started off that way, really as a vehicle for Mondanile’s lo-fi solo recording projects. But now – in 2015 – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern where the Real Estate shade of the spectrum ends and where Ducktails begins.

In many ways, St. Catherine could be a sister album to Real Estate’s admirable 2014 LP Atlas, laying a bridge to cross the sonic divide that previously segregated both bands. Delve into the LP and you’ll see that, like Real Estate’s Martin Courtney, Matt Mondanile is not the strongest vocalist, but he has a knack for churning out the kind of reflective heartfelt melodies that abound on earlier Real Estate LPs.

At its best, St. Catherine is a heartwarming and beguiling collection of songs, the aural equivalent of a summer stroll with a lover at the end of a long and lazy day. Instrumental opener “The Disney Afternoon” is a woozy, orchestral instrumental that lays the groundwork for the laid-back — but deceptively textured — compositions that follow.

The vibraphone-assisted ramble of lead single “Headbanging in the Mirror” is a highlight. Elsewhere, “Surreal Exposure” and “Heaven's Room” (the latter featuring L.A. songsmith Julia Holter) are as wonderful as their abstract, eerie and unearthly monikers suggest. It’s the sort of songcraft that evokes the waking memory of an intense but fading lucid dream — something that feels both simultaneously real and imagined.

For the most part these tracks are comprised of Mondanile’s typically dreamy arrangements, buoyed by an ambience of wistful contemplation. If there’s an overarching theme it’s a sense of laissez-faire longing for past times: times we’ve convinced ourselves were better than the here-and-now, when deep down we know it’s an over-indulgent self-deception. “Headbanging in the Mirror” best encapsulates this line of thinking, with its leisurely refrain of “let me come down from this speedy afternoon interior dream…”

An easy criticism to level at St. Catherine is that it breaks no ground, that Mondanile can probably pen these kind of fuzzy and meandering ditties in his sleep. That might be true, but St. Catherine’s highpoints will hypnotize and hold sway long enough to keep you entranced until Mondanile’s next contribution. Which, in all likelihood, won’t be that far off. 

B-