When Real Estate’s Days came out in early fall 2011, it sounded like a classic. Something you could put on again and again, new anthems for the aimlessly wandering that sounded more like a shoulder to lean on than a crutch. Most of the track’s featured Martin Courtney’s vocals, a prettier version of Malkmus’ slacker shrug, but the one track that Matt Mondanile, Ducktails, is credited for on Days is “Kinder Blumen,” a jangly instrumental track. On Ducktails’ The Flower Lane, Mondanile expands his palette, working with scores of collaborators to flesh out his sound.
Mondanile’s transition from buzz-drenched rock to a slicker studio sound mirrors Ariel Pink’s progression. Pink’s Before Today marked a turning point, recording in a style resembling the 70’s and 80’s radio music he clung to as an adolescent rather than the hazy lo-fi of Worn Copy or The Doldrums. That step was preceded by the leap from Animal Collective’s small indie Paw Tracks to a much larger indie, 4AD. On The Flower Lane, Ducktails has made a similar change from Woodsist to Real Estate’s label, Domino. In an interview with Bowlegs, Mondanile explains how easy the decision was to record it outside his bedroom, “it’s basically because Domino offered to help me record it in a studio in Brooklyn and I thought why would I not take up this opportunity.”
That studio time takes Ducktails away from the cassette-left-in-the-sun aesthetic that previous albums, like Landscapes, featured. Instead, the album features lush instrumentation throughout, nodding more to late 70’s soft rock than the Hypnagogic Pop of the previous decade. It also takes from some of Days dormitory blues, just displaced into Brooklyn. That move to Brooklyn’s Gary’s Electric Studio enabled The Flower Lane to become a collaborative effort, featuring Martin Courtney, Jessa Farkas, Cults’ Madeline Follin, and even Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never. In an interview with The FADER, “People would just walk into the studio and see how they could change the record. I’d spent so much time recording by myself, so I thought this would be something different.” Follin’s contributions on “Sedan Magic” and Farkas' on “Letter Of Intent” are immediate highlights. Outside of Cults’ perky Phil Specter influenced bubble-gum, her vocals are given room to breathe and linger around Mondanile’s languid guitar licks.
Most of the tracks on The Flower Lane deal with distance from your friends or from a significant other. There’s an ease in Mondanile’s vocals that sees a virtue in his loner-ism while still looking for someone to take comfort in. On the title track to The Flower Lane he sings, “A million pretty faces and no one to care for,” which is a succinct way of articulating the feeling of being alone in a new city. Album opener “Ivy Covered House” sets a domestic idyll of the supportive wife and the leafy sidewalks of the suburbs before it all comes crashing down around the last verse. “Away from the in-crowd/The ivy covered house/ I’ve always been without,” it’s a bait and switch, the album begins with bliss but quickly turns into resignation about being on his own. He comes back to this often, the frightened narrator avoiding a girl in “Timothy Shy” or pleading to someone he’s closer to that “I wish you could see/ The thoughts in my head,” in “Assistant Director.”
Mondanile’s skeletal lyrics prop up the best compositions he’s recorded. It’s obvious that the time touring with Real Estate in the past few years has sharpened his ear for melody. This is a beautiful sounding rock record, every drum hits flush, every guitar sound just right. “Under Cover” is the standout of the bunch; it builds on layers of 80’s NPR synth and a saxophone towards Mondanile’s most cosmic guitar riffs on The Flower Lane. It’s a track that I’ll replay as soon as it ends, an earworm that you won’t want to let go of.
Domino’s gamble paid off, given the opportunity to work in a studio Ducktails churned out a great rock record that only gets better as you replay it. That this record was able to come together cohesively, with as many moving parts as it had is amazing in itself, but that it also works as a major progression from Mondanile’s previous solo albums as Ducktails makes it even more so.