The cover of Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics sort of says it all. We see a nondescript building beside some body of water on what could be a warm summer evening. Everything reflects in the calm waters, a still and serene picture seen through a washed out, hazy filter. At first glance the photo is of nothing, really. But the more you look, the more details you pick up on and the more intrigued you are. What is the building? What happens there? What decade is this? Why the fake swans?
The third solo album by Real Estate guitarist Matthew Mondanile hits you in the same way. There’s a lot of detail in his songs, more than you might know. Using his trademark style of melodic loops backing rambling guitars and hazy, barely intelligible lyrics, Mondanile sets a mood more than anything. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ambiance that hides his intentions and themes in a mist.
Those themes, as far as I can surmise, revolve around the sort of emotions you might feel at the end of a long summer day in your childhood home. “Hamilton Road,” the album’s lead single, dreams back to days filled with sitting in your tree house and by the water. “Killin’ the Vibe,” on the other hand, begs the grump in the room to just sit down and enjoy the good times instead of complaining about everything. Mondanile is going to have a good time regardless. You can either go along with that or go the fuck home.
There’s a sort of impenetrable force to the album that forces you to either join in or miss out completely. This exclusivity is present on each of the first two Ducktails albums, but never before has Mondanile pulled it off so well. He’s gone back to his original format of one to two-minute songs and a 10-minute plus closer that we saw on his debut, but the writing is much more mature. Mondanile is finally playing with more conventional song structures that aim to please on tracks like “Hamilton Road” and my personal favorite “Art Vandelay,” but he’s not afraid to throw you a few solid minutes of lo-fi ambient vibes either.
The mist that surrounds Arcade Dynamics is maybe it’s own worst enemy. Although it wraps the album in a cozy lo-fi cocoon, it can alienate any listener that tunes out for a few seconds. But given a thoughtful listen, Ducktails’ latest effort is brilliantly detailed and layered. Musically, much of the album sits somewhere between psychedelia, rock and maybe even a little jazz. It also has some great themes that we, including Mondanile himself, could learn from.
The chorus to “Art Vandelay” puts it best: “Everybody knows that a book is hard to finish if you’re not really into it.” The problem is that Arcade Dynamics is like a very good book that’s all too easy to finish.
Buy Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics now on Woodsist.