Amidst a wide array of cassettes, CD-R and 7” releases, Matthew Mondanile’s fourth proper album as Ducktails is very different from his early bedroom recordings. On The Flower Lane, the Real Estate guitarist’s side project offers bright and mellow pop fitted with echoed vocals and a guitar-centric foundation. The album builds on steps taken on Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics toward a fuller sound, with Mondanile welcoming collaborators this time, including members of Real Estate and power-pop tourmates Big Troubles.
Set to jangly guitars, “Ivy Covered House” begins things with Mondanile singing, “Well hello, it’s me again.” With the strums of the acoustic guitar, it leans on an indie-folk aesthetic that nods to Kurt Vile and Woods. Whereas, an earlier song like “Art Vandelay” revealed its sonic identity right off the bat, here the song unravels in layers. The sounds and melodies have always been present in spurts but never before has he combined them as thoroughly.
“Under Cover” uses synths, a noodling guitar solo, bursts of instrumental jams and horns to mark the album’s new direction for Mondanile, one that combines his pop sensibilities with dynamic instrumental work. Likewise, “Timothy Shy” contains a dreamy factor that’s always been in Mondanile’s work but builds gradually from a single idea into a full song that finishes with a screeching blast of guitar. The heightened production from his four-track roots is felt and adds a new dimension by taking the two- or three-chord lo-fi pop found on Arcade Dynamics and bridging it into songs that effortlessly run over four minutes.
Mondanile’s keyboards on “Assistant Director” echo off the beat so much that they sound syncopated and give the song a dance rhythm. There’s more rhythmic play on “Letter Of Intent,” where Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never mans the dreamy synthesizers and Jessa Farkas of Future Shuttles sings gentle, floating lines about hand-holding love.
Among all of the growth, “Planet Phrom” is an odd mix that finds the album at its weirdest, calmly discussing alien love (“Making love with my alien wife”). It’s enjoyable enough but doesn’t fit within the context of the rest of the album. Closer “Academy Avenue” also feels out of place, sounding more like a holdover from Ducktails’ previous album. Nevertheless, The Flower Lane is a testament to Mondanile’s growth as an artist that translates a prolonged history of potential into a complete and well-crafted work.