January 7, 2011

Douglas Martin’s rap name is Gyro Gearloose.

Over the course of the past three years or so, Real Estate guitarist and all-around chill Jersey bro, Matthew Mondanile, has been recording music under the name Ducktails, much to the delight of experimental-pop fans who spent entire days of their childhood with dreams of swimming in a bank full of gold coins while wearing a fetching magenta and black onesie. In fact, I was genuinely prepared for this post to be an imagined series of “new episodes” of Duck Tales scored by Ducktails, but then I actually had the chance to give the record a few listens.

The two Ducktails full-lengths prior to Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics are primarily made up of psychedelic aural excursions, and while this full-length does possess a few trippy instrumental numbers (“The Razor’s Edge,“ “Arcade Shift”) that would be perfect for the Duck Tales video game for the NES console (easily one of the best video games made for the system), Mondanile did the most unexpected thing an artist as left-field as himself could possibly do: write an album full of actual songs. And though I enjoy extolling the virtues of Launchpad McQuack just as much as the next man, I felt it would be disingenuous to the record’s emotional core.

That emotional core is carried by two pensive tracks that were released on a Ducktails single last year. Following driving intro “In the Swing,” “Hamilton Road” features Mondanile’s trademark slinky-yet-melancholy guitar work while he wistfully observes the street below him and the water far off in the distance from the view of a treehouse — it falls right in line with the sort of plaintive nostalgia that he and Real Estate co-songwriter Martin Courtney are slowly mastering. On the other end, “Hamilton Road“ b-side “Art Vandelay,” which takes an arch Seinfeld reference and turns it into a lament on loss, whether it’s losing memory, losing sleep, or simply losing a handkerchief, all built around a simple bon mot: “Nothing’s where you think it is.”

Though “Killin’ the Vibe”– unless it’s some sort of next-level post-chillwave irony– slinks into bro-y self-parody, the bulk of the songs on Arcade Dynamics are indicative of the songwriting he’s only shown in small bursts on previous LP’s. Here, Mondanile writes a series of sensitive requiems of post-adolescent life with music that feels like an overcast summer day: heat seeping through everything on the ground, while the sun only exists as a blurry yellow ball in the pale grey sky (“Do you want to stay indoors?” Mondanile sings on the one-man call-and-response “Don’t Make Plans,” “C’mon, man, I’ll just be bored”).

In all its aimlessness, “Porch Projector” provides the complete phonic equivalent to the themes of nostalgia Mondanile has made a name for himself in providing; the instrumental provides nothing more than wallpaper for you to lose yourself in your own memories, and is made all the better for it. The psychedelic waltz of “Sunset Liner” is bolstered by the short, acoustic instrumental of “Little Window,” highlighting Mondanile’s pop instincts in a compact 3 ½-minute stretch, making his guitar work instantly recognizable for anyone who considers themselves a fan of Real Estate. Though it hewes closer to the template of that band than his past solo work, on Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, Matthew Mondanile proves that he is just as adept at writing emotionally striking songs as he is at sonic exploration.

MP3: Ducktails-“Art Vandelay”

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