CD Review: Ducktails “Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics”

When Howard Moskowitz was commissioned to concoct the ideal Diet Pepsi, he felt the wrong approach had been tabled. Aspiring to create the perfect Diet Pepsis was a sounder framework — rather than twiddling their thumbs contemplating the makeup of a nonexistent galvanizing flavor, they ought to have covered their bases and released several distinct, proven flavors to win over the motley palates of soda consumers. They should have shot for the plurality of perfection.

Musicians likely hold an affinity for this vantage point as well, given the preponderance of side projects scattered across today’s sonic landscape. An opportunity to tackle one’s muse from a different angle is tempting to be sure, the day-to-day swapped for a fresh skin, for a perspective unbound by the various hopes and fears of those outside looking in, voicing concerns or merely cogitations inapt under the full-time banner.

Matt Mondanile had the right idea with Ducktails, his ethereal ruminations complementing the drowsy front-porch pop of Real Estate (or vice versa). 2009?s Landscapes conjured woolly memories, which may have never transpired, gently brushing dots on life’s canvas, but never connecting them to reveal a conclusion. A deep-seated longing permeated these synth-laced vistas, a muddled desire to scale the walls of the familiar despite a lack of the faintest inkling of direction.

If Real Estate lumbered in the wiles of suburbia, Ducktails reflected the worry that these cushy barriers might suffocate the slivers of pipe dreams laying in the great beyond.

This dichotomy is void on Arcade Dynamics. This here is the first Ducktails full-length to blur the lines delineating Mondanile’s two foremost ventures, by and large ditching the scenic for the lucid. Insouciant and breezy, the outing is guided through the slender mist by vocals and sun-burnt strums which hadn’t surfaced on Landscapes or its self-titled predecessor — principally instrumental albums.

‘In The Swing’ and ‘Hamilton Road’ drive this immediacy home from the outset as the jaunts lilt into the ether on the heels of wispy harmonies and mannered lo-fi instrumentation. It’s all significantly tidier than previous treks, sheltered by the cozy clasp of pop/rock precept.

Bordering on shipshape in comparison, the record arguably sinks no lower than wordless ditty ‘The Razor’s Edge’, failing to muster the technicolor depth Ducktails inhabited months ago as the number’s growing pains are evinced by a fidgety, near-sullen atmosphere. It almost resembles the aural embodiment of writer’s block — the sound of frustration and stubbornness concurrently planting themselves in our side. Ducktails has never appeared so one-note, so chained to a single locale, and so miffed about the tireless itch.

Granted, the laid-back character is pleasant now and again, particularly ‘Killin The Vibe’ and ‘Don’t Make The Plans’ which are lazy as well, but endearingly so. Armed with bubbling melodies, the pair is infectious, hinting at the emollient beach it had mostly abandoned in favor of parked cars and dull city blocks on this release. Sandwiched between these songs is choice cut ‘Arcade Shift’, escorting us back into the amber glow of Landscapes, drum machines percolating, synths buzzing, Mondanile rapt in a daze of better days. For the briefest of instants (well, 3 minutes), the terse postcards scribbled on float into the periphery and Ducktails regain the vast plains depicted therein, traipsing toward a promised land none can identify and only the lost can perceive.

At a healthy 10 minutes long, ‘Porch Projector’ strives to deliver the album’s mission statement, and it does, bloating the same plight ‘The Razor’s Edge’ dealt with to impressive scales. This is a show of meandering nothingness, the number wading in a shallow pool of ambience throughout, distant voices and the pitter-patter of raindrops upon balconies the sole spoors of spirit remaining in this bereft neighborhood. It drifts away as innocuously as it had arrived, the loping yet lethargic indie-pop tracks steering this ship in the end, littering it with faded…everything.

Perhaps the walls have finally closed in, perhaps Mondanile can no longer marshal the energy required to peer past his dreary corral, perhaps he’s so drained he can’t tell the forest for the trees or one moniker from the other because Arcade Dynamics surrenders to the grin and grip of apathy. Stupendous realms of what was and what could be are relegated to the outskirts, the tepid contentment of what is rules the roost. Even if mildly, more has alas translated to merrier.

Rating: 5.3 / 10

For more on Ducktails: http://www.myspace.com/ducktailss