Ducktails’ Matthew Mondanile’s newest release (out January 28 on Domino) The Flower Lane marks a fairly drastic shift from his habitual solo “bedroom” recording practice to full-blown, full studio collaboration mode. New Jersey band Big Troubles backs him on most of the album and several talented guests contribute. Among others, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never and Ford & Lopatin), Joel Ford (Ford & Lopatin), Madeline Follin (Cults), and Jessa Farkas (Future Shuttle) all make guest appearances.
The guitarist for the band Real Estate, Mondanile has recorded and performed (until The Flower Lane as a solo artist) in Ducktails for the past few years. Ducktails’ Bandcamp page is tagged with ambient rock, new age, psychedelic, and pop. Most of these tags apply to The Flower Lane, though psychedelic is a bit of a stretch. The overall feeling is relaxed, emotionally light, mildly playful and pleasant. Though there are lyrics here that allude to loss and loneliness, no one is losing any sleep; this is without doubt a walk on the sunny side. Neither Mondanile nor his stellar guest vocalists betray much emotion, though all deliver strong performances.
The subject of intimacy is a “thing” in Mr. Mondanile’s lyrics. He seems to be either seeking it or avoiding it in an innocent, boyish way. In title track “The Flower Lane” he laments, “So now she’s gone and I feel a mess” and then relates that he’ll be “hiding in the corner of the basement gallery.” In the playful “Under Cover” he asks straightforwardly, “do you want to go under the covers?” In “Timothy Shy” the perturbed protagonist guesses he’ll “turn [his] head and hide away” ostensibly to avoid painful social contact with a crush. And in “Assistant Director” he wishes the object of his affections could see the thoughts in his head, and is certain that the two of them will someday “find each other underneath the same sky.”
Two delightful oddities mix up the proceedings. “International Date Line” is a two-minute instrumental that, pleasing as it is, could easily have been twice as long. This one is a car song; it just begs to bounce around a very small, upholstered interior while traveling rapidly to a new and promising place. The winning track on the album is “Planet Phrom”. Written by New Zealander Peter Gutteridge of bands The Chills and The Clean, it is completely owned by Mondanile and company in this recording. It’s a pity that, as a cover, it was not in the running for single status (which went to the lovely though relatively pedestrian “Letter of Intent”). Mr. Mondanile’s gorgeous guitar playing, writ large all over this album, is particularly stunning on “Planet Phrom”. The subtly veiled and shaded vocal production, quite distinct from that of other tracks, really transports the listener to the hazy bliss of this mysterious planet.
Committing to this degree of collaboration must have required a great deal of creative courage on the part of Matthew Mondanile. The collective approach taken on The Flower Lane, while largely successful, has effectively deprived listeners of a truly Ducktailsesque experience.