Over the course of each successive release under the Ducktails moniker, Matt Mondanile (who works a day job as the guitarist for Real Estate) seems to grow in confidence as a songwriter. What started as a collection of tape-recorded solo songs that were primarily without vocals, has since blossomed into the full-band concern that debuted on 2013’s The Flower Lane, complete with vocals and lyrics. Where that seemed like a tentative step into the pool, St. Catherine is a full-on cannonball into the deep end. This is a statement record, a summation of Mondanile’s songwriting style and perspective in the fullest way possible.

There have always been a few similarities between Ducktails and Real Estate, and given that Mondanile has been contributing more to the latter band, those similarities are likely to persist. Still, Ducktails has a strong enough identity as a project to remain something wholly separate, and for all of its similarities, St. Catherine definitely isn’t Real Estate Lite. Even as he moves further away from the tape hiss and phaser effects of his early days, Mondanile’s influences and perspective remain intact. Here, his psychedelic take on sophisti-pop is clearer and sharper than ever; first single “Headbanging in the Mirror” slinks and slides into the listener’s mind, taking enough time to encourage contemplation without overstaying its welcome. At points sounding like Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon played at half-speed, Mondanile displays his sharp pop sensibilities throughout St. Catherine.

What’s impressive about the continuous evolution of Ducktails is how the original, experimental nature of the project has been preserved, even as the tracks become more streamlined and more like, well, songs. That trend continues on St. Catherine, though Mondanile’s music has never sounded poppier than it does here. Collaborators on the album include James Ferraro and Julia Holter, yet neither of them really define or alter the songs that they work on. In fact, Holter’s vocals on “Heaven’s Room” fit seamlessly into Mondanile’s new aesthetic; she comes across as a traditional singer, a more low-key version of Kate Bush’s contributions to Peter Gabriel’s So.

Elsewhere, though, St. Catherine is par for the course as a Ducktails album. The record’s three instrumental tracks are uniformly great, though “Krumme Lanke” seems a bit like a relic of a time long past. For the most part, though, Mondanile relies on vocals and words, and while St. Catherine isn’t exactly filled with profound statements, Mondanile’s easygoing performances make for a pleasant listen.

St. Catherine isn’t an exciting record, but Mondanile doesn’t bother with the pretense that this record is a game-changer or an attempt at a masterpiece. This is a record filled with comfort and subtle confidence. As it turns out, Mondanile isn’t the sort of artist to shift his sound on a dime or shock his audience. His burn is slow, his evolution steady but progressive with each new release. Time will determine the place that St. Catherine holds in Mondanile’s growing body of work, but as the latest piece of a remarkable puzzle, it’ll do just fine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Mountain Goats: Getting into Knives

Rather than attempting to re-create his glory days, John Darnielle revisits and enriches t…