Release Date: Jan 18, 2011
Record label: Woodsist
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Neo-Psychedelia
The uptick in bedroom musicians slotting cassette tapes into dusty four-tracks and coating their music with thick layers of distortion reached its apogee in the past year. It's difficult to sift through any music content online without stumbling across reams of opaque artists blurring out the world, many of whom were tied together under the "hypnagogic pop" banner. Real Estate guitarist Matthew Mondanile is one such musician, principally for his work as Ducktails.
Regardless of its Wire-assisted etymology and the basic ideas underpinning its use, ‘hypnagogic pop’ as a term has become so widely used – and misused – that its usefulness as a signifier for a certain musical aesthetic has diminished to a fragment of its initial potency. That view, of course, depends largely on whether you subscribed to it in the first place, though in the case of The Skaters and Matthew Mondanile’s music as Ducktails, the idea carried a certain blurry charm. Alongside records like James Ferraro’s mercurial and beautiful Last American Hero, with its Judge Judy and Best Buy fetishising/satirizing (the line is so thin) artwork, Mondanile’s earlier material achieved a peculiar, dreamlike transcendence through memories of the mundane and the ordinary.
if you don’t count his dozens of cassette releases, Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics is Matthew Mondanile's third proper album, but the mention of "arcade" in the album title might be deceiving. Instead of continuing in the synthesized chillwave tradition of Landscapes, for this release the Real Estate guitarist takes a step back from electronics, and records conventional two- or three-chord lo-fi pop songs to 8-track with organic instruments. Guitars are in the foreground, along with a traditional bass and drum setup.
New Jersey’s Ducktails has been making a name for itself (or, really, for himself—this is the project of Real Estate’s Matthew Monandile) in the chillwave scene for the last couple of years. An opening line like that will either make you cringe or make you reach for your Wayfarers and beach blanket. In other words, chillwave has made the transition from genre fad to, well, genre.
I think it’s fair to say that, over the last two years or so, the indie limelight (or at least the ‘new stuff’ portion of the indie limelight) has been dominated by artists at the aesthetic crossroads that unite genre constructions like “witch house,” “balearic,” “glo-fi,” “shitgaze,” “hypnagogic,” and, most prominently, “chillwave. ” Some of the same threads also stitch dubstep to the brand of psychedelic lo-fi represented by the likes of Sun Araw or Pocahaunted. The more transparent kind, exclusive to the pop cloud, is a certain brand of nostalgia for suburbia/the beach/the 80s… or whatever.
All I can think about upon seeing the band name/album title combo on this disc is playing SNES at my best friend’s house after watching Saturday morning cartoons. The rapidfire flashing lights, quick movement, and wacky music aren’t exactly attributes I’d give to Matthew Mondanile’s past work under the Ducktails moniker. Also a guitarist for Real Estate, Mondanile’s past work is bedroom-recorded, surfy psychedelia often put out on cassette.
With nostalgia baked right into the name Real Estate guitarist Matthew Mondanile chose for his solo project, the badly dubbed VHS tape snow with which he coated each spindly guitar lick, and that patented glo-fi fuzz, Ducktails’s Landscapes fit neatly into the chillwave subgenre. But Ducktails initially stood apart from fellow bedroom loners like Neon Indian and Washed Out because Mondanile showed little interest in pop song structures. Instead, his work relied on repetition to lull the listener into a state where pining for the Saturday morning cartoons of yore sounded like a good idea.
Better known for his work with Real Estate, Matthew Mondanile has quietly released a batch of bedroom projects that snugly co-exist with the Jersey foursome’s much more appealing melodic pop. Intended to capture personal accounts mostly told in first person perspective, Mondaline cautiously invites with a tangy aroma and lively acidity. These dispiriting tunes sound like drug induced downers, barely cracking the walls to let some sunspots caress the dark corners of his black walls.
Matt Mondanile stays busy recording his own stuff as Ducktails and as a sideman in Real Estate, but he seems to take it all in stride. In fact, his previous Ducktails releases sounded carefree enough to make it seem like he maintained his busy schedule by not working too long on any one piece, freeing up the time to move directly on to the next. But where his previous Ducktails albums were sunkissed psychedelic jams likely to stretch out to the five or ten minute range, Arcade Dynamics is sunkissed psych pop with vocals and all – and the songs rarely make it past the three minute mark.