Words by Brian Salvatore

Ducktails is the project of Matt Mondanile, guitarist for Real Estate, New Jersey’s finest purveyors of rich, shimmery indie rock. Mondanile, Ducktails’ sole permanent member, takes that band’s elements and brings them to their most natural conclusions on St. Catherine, a record that sounds how summer in suburbia feels. The electric guitars are as hazy as an August morning, the keyboards sweat a thick fog, and his melodies are incredibly direct. This is a far cry from the earlier, more experimental Ducktails records, but it sees Mondanile settling into his role as a fine pop songwriter.

This album was recorded primarily in Los Angeles, and that city’s sounds play a large role in the record. If one were to take the Laurel Canyon sound and filter it through indie rock, this is what you’d get. The L.A. of films and television is on display here, from the laid back, surf-y vibe of the electric guitars, to “Church” telling a story through a script reading. Instrumental album opener “The Disney Afternoon,” by its title alone, transports us both to a Californian theme park and back to a more innocent time watching cartoons on ABC, as the song itself conjures images of comfort and safety.

Perhaps, because I am similar in age to Mondanile and from roughly the same area of New Jersey, I hear a lot of my childhood in this record – there are elements of the sound that remind me of being in my mother’s Peugeot station wagon when the air conditioner was on the fritz. The music, sonically, isn’t much like the Carly Simon or Jackson Browne tunes I heard in those days, but the laid back atmosphere is very familiar. Mixed with a bit of the synth-driven pop of the 80s and early 90s that would have been a large part of Mondanile’s early musical memories, he creates songs that simply feel nostalgic, even if the lyrics don’t suggest that.

St. Catherine doesn’t stray far from its core sound, but instead adds interesting elements on top of that bed. There are subtle elements of drone and noise that make their way into these straightforward pop songs, which act as the connective tissue between the different eras of the band. Lyrically, however, the record covers a lot of ground. The one constant here is longing – for a moment to stay forever (“Headbanging in the Mirror”), for a place of comfort (“Heaven’s Room”), or for someone to grow up (“The Laughing Woman”).

There is a spiritual undercurrent to many of the songs, which add a certain heft and weight to his lyrics. “St. Catherine” speaks of angels, and “Heaven’s Room” describes the Virgin Mary as a sort of broker to eternal peace. The Catholic imagery is presented as extremely peaceful and hopeful. Added to the humid, sun kissed tracks, these songs, at least to me, make me feel like I’m a kid again – trying to understand life and listen for the ice cream truck with equal intensity.

‘St. Catherine’
© July 24th, 2015



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