Ducktails, the side project of Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile, is beginning to gain momentum. Three albums on from 2009’s self-titled and enjoyable psychedelic lo-fi debut, Ducktails is now on Domino – also Real Estate’s label – and seems to be a more collaborative effort, with Mondanile calling upon fellow musicians such as Cults’ singer Madeline Follin and New Jersey indie-poppers Big Troubles as his backing band for this fourth instalment, The Flower Lane.
The result of these collaborations – and the shift from solo home-recording to the breadth of the studio – is a sprawling salute to the poppier end of (to use an Americanism) college and alternative rock from the 1980s and ’90s, and something far removed from Ducktails’ previous output bursting with analogue synths, Casio-sounding beats and excess reverb. Indeed, The Flower Lane strikes right at the heart of the early beginnings of indie-pop.
Opener Ivy Covered House greets you with typical jangly guitar and sentimental lyrics reminiscent of The Field Mice’s own house-based track, Emma’s House, while not delving too much into the realms of twee thanks to impressive power pop guitar leads and gentle backing from Follin. Meanwhile, the album’s title track diverts somewhat away from this with its Steely Dan Aja period organ crossed with mid-tempo sophisti-pop reminiscent of Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera.
Yet the album really comes to life during the six-minute Under Cover, which features all the traits of late Orange Juice: calypso guitar, funk bass lines, tight drumming evocative of Zeke Manyika and horns straight out of Rip it Up. Considering the song’s length, it washes over you completely, absorbing time in the process. A delight.
Proceeding track Timothy Shy, with vocals sounding like a cross between Lawrence of Felt and Jim Reid of The Jesus And Mary Chain, stirs things up a little, with Mondanile’s love of synth and reverb via powerful guitar solos powering through, contrasting the clean bass and piano layered underneath. Meanwhile, the cover of Planet Phrom, originally by New Zealander Peter Gutteridge of influential band The Clean, shimmers and again errs on the right side of twee and surrealism thanks to its lyrics about “making love with alien life”.
Assistant Director takes the album into Saint Etienne territory, largely through its use of playful psychedelic synth – something more akin to Ducktails’ previous work – and modulated guitar: it would easily work with Sarah Cracknell’s placid tones; while Letter Of Intent, featuring a duet between Jessa Farkas of New York’s Future Shuttle and Big Trouble’s Ian Drennan, again strikes up a link with Felt and, principally, the song Primitive Painters, which includes a jostling duet between Lawrence and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins.
While The Flower Lane may seem something of a nostalgia trip – even the album title is evocative of the period (remember The Lotus Eaters?) – it is a surprisingly refreshing listen. Compared to some contemporary indie-pop – which can either be too saccharine, an attempt to look in vogue through wearing old jumpers or fail to grasp anything relating to pop at all – this goes right back to its core roots: in essence, pop music tinted with indie and alternative principles. Mondanile may have found his talents lie away from his bedroom lo-fi recordings – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.