Ridgewood, New Jersey, native Matt Mondanile co-founded the band Real Estate with a couple of high school classmates and quickly became an Indie rock staple with their debut 2009 self-titled release. Their one-of-a-kind mix of preppy lyrics, peppy beats and wildly distorted guitars caught the attention of large audiences, who cheered their blend of psych, surf and sunshine pop. Meanwhile, Mondanile remained loyal to his solo moniker, Ducktails, releasing several LPs during the duration of his flagship project.
Jersey Devil signals Ducktails’ first studio album since Mondanile departed from Real Estate earlier this year in order to realize his full potential as a musician. Mondanile left the anxious city of Los Angeles — where Real Estate mines their breezy California tunes — for his lofty hometown, opting to seclude himself in his mother’s basement. Honing in on his solo project, Mondanile self-recorded his newest album on tape machines and mixed his LP in Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon studio in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey.
Ducktails creates a sonic make-up dominated by chillwave synths, concise drum machines and twangy guitars, picking up on the experimental and droning roots that defined Mondanile’s homemade style in his early LPs: Landscapes and Ducktails. Jersey Devil also sees an increased influx of vintage influences such as Steely Dan and Billy Joel.
In “Keeper of the Garden,” Mondanile serenades his mother behind a bombardment of reverberating tones. In fact, much of side-A renders itself a huge deviation from Real Estate, including the opener “Map to the Stars” and “Solitary Star.” It’s possible that Mondanile believes if the song has “star” in the title, it needs to sound more dream pop-y. These spacey melodies creating a laid-back atmosphere with fuzzy synths and terse drum machines, aided by a concrete progression of deep bass lines and distorted guitars. Yet, the composition of these songs feels less authentic as if Mondanile cherry-picked his favorite tropes from the current Indie rock scene.
In songs such as “In the Hallway,” listeners are greeted with familiar chords and jazzy ride cymbals that often snake their way into many Real Estate songs. Mondanile finds himself at home in the slick guitar riffs, making for one of the most feel-good songs on the record with simplistic lyrics and a relaxed cadence.
Many of the lyrics allow themselves to be easily imposed upon by the listener. In “Lover,” Mondanile imparts, “I understand you’re mad/I hope that time will pass/And someday we will speak again.” These are no doubt catchy as hell, and Mondanile demonstrates a lazy croon not fully utilized by Real Estate, but the ambiguity in his words displays Mondanile’s greatest weakness in
meaningful songwriting. In effect, Mondanile fails to fully capture his audience, leading the record to be easily replaceable by a plethora of other up-and-coming and established indie acts.
Jersey Devil is definitely worth a listen, and many of its songs will easily find their way to your lo-fi Spotify playlist, but Mondanile’s attempts at creating something fresh and different ends up putting himself in the same mold as many of his contemporaries such as Ariel Pink and Mac DeMarco. Ducktails is suffering from the growing pains of a culture saturated with 1980s nostalgia attempting to transform and transcend previously explored material. Hopefully, Mondanile will continue to trek forward in his solo career, discovering new ways to get over his salad days.