words by DAVID HOGG
The prospect of a solo project always brings with it some question towards its relation to the original band. In the case of Matthew Mondanile, the guitarist of Real Estate and leader of Ducktails, the two have, until now, remained neatly tucked in different niches of Mondanile’s musical ambition. While Real Estate strove for its brand of understated guitar pop, Mondanile used Ducktails to experiment with synthetic-based atmospheres. Both have a similar aesthetic touch of warm, simplistic guitar work, reminiscent of lazy summer afternoons in Mondanile’s home state of New Jersey. With The Flower Lane, however, Mondanile has obscured the line by moving Ducktails from the bedroom production of former albums and adding a full backing band.
From the album opener, “Ivy Colored House,” it’s clear that this is the most accessible release from Ducktails. Listening to 2010’s self-titled album or its follow-up, Ducktails was Mondanile’s outlet for his interest in lo-fi electronic textures. The Flower Lane is more reminiscent of Real Estate, but that’s not to say that this is a Real Estate album. These songs are much more spacey and psychedelic, stressing expansion over concision. The extreme of this shift is heard throughout “Under Cover,” which ventures into such excessive lengths with saxophone and guitar solos that it may be better suited for The Weather Channel. Granted, this is an extreme, but it does present some of the larger issues of underwhelming excess to be found on the album.
A distinct difference in this album is its production. Fuller, smoother, and more polished, it’s Mondanile’s most sonically pristine effort. Previous Ducktails albums wove a flawed tapestry in which different synthetic sounds and tones were combined to emphasize a more intimate, imperfect whole; The Flower Lane, on the other hand, has clearly pronounced parts contributing to its larger, refined sound. While this is usually a benefit, many of these songs fail to create a convincing soundscape for the listener. “Sedan Magic,” for example, is sonically pleasing and a very easy listen; the guitar riffs have a clean, fluid quality that nicely complements the female voice in the chorus. Nevertheless, in spite of its pleasantry, there is little that makes this song memorable.
Even on “Timothy Shy,” a distinct take on 60s pop in its piano stomp and guitar fills, the delivery sounds removed and distant. The wailing guitar solo at the end of the song gives it a much-needed breath of life, but before then the song trudges through a safely predictable rhythm that leaves no lasting imprint. The only trace of the song that came to mind is how its chorus (“When I see you my eyes turn blue”) oddly resembles a verse from “Gone Daddy Gone” (“When I see you, eyes will turn blue”). Otherwise, it exemplifies The Flower Lane’s greatest overall flaw: a lack of soul.
The question this album begs then is in its purpose. What has Mondanile provided in The Flower Lane, aside from a safely predictable psychedelic pop album? One could argue that all the spacey and transcendent qualities here don’t betray the album’s sincerity, including the “making love to my alien wife” line from “Planet Phrom,” but these parts do not make a convincing whole. Its songwriting, production, and delivery harbor no risks, and therefore the album safely passes by its listeners without leaving anything but a want for something a little more lively. [C]
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