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.
Mondanile has always had a facility with melodies, and though they’re now confined to tighter pop structures, they still feel light and unrestrained, taking up as much space as they need to. Except for on a few tracks – the dysphoric (for Ducktails) instrumental “The Razor’s Edge” and the scenic instrumental “Arcade Shift” – the psych elements here are fairly light, limited to some tasteful phaser or some buzzing guitar in the background. His time in Real Estate shows in this album’s tightening up, with the languid vocals complimenting the relaxed melodies with an understated sweetness, but keeping a sprightly enough pace for head-bobbing and toe-tapping. The lo-fi, basement production combined with the dangly, spindly lead melodies has him sounding a bit like CCR playing through a mid-period Sebadoh filter.
The lyrics recall the lazy joys of hanging out and being young, when worries about the past or future simply don’t exist. if you’re allergic to bro-speak, there are a few moments that might make you roll your eyes, but overall, Mondanile is pretty good at painting pictures of a hazy existence, relaxing in treehouses and missing sunsets because you’re busy dreaming about them. A few songs stand out as destined for spring and summer mixtapes and outline the album’s themes with the most vigor (or whatever). “Killing the Vibe” is a plea directed at a wet blanket to “try your hardest to smile” and works through some ambitious layers of background vocals. “Don’t Make Plans” is a declaration that “I told you man, I’ve got no plan”, and the real drumset gives it an extra kick. In addition to these two standouts, there are a handful of other tunes which are as catchy as hell, a few zoned out interstitial instrumentals, and long finale which slows his old work to an impressionistic crawl. It’s a surprise Ducktails album, and a charming one at that.
Mondanile isn’t rewriting any of the rules here, but he does show that he can stand on his own as a pop songwriter perfectly well, and frequently does so in an addictive fashion. The music world hasn’t had a lot of memorable guitar-slinging slackers recently, but if you wanna chill out in a hammock, Ducktails has your back.