Whether he's constructing complex synth-laden arrangements or simply working with a guitar and a tape recorder, Real Estate's Matt Mondanile has always managed to create an effortless, breezy sound which perfectly accompanies those precious bits of time in which we find ourselves doing nothing much at all. Whilst retaining the dreamy ramblings of past Ducktails releases, Mondanile's latest offering marks a progression in the Ducktails project in that it unites the lo-fi, three chord pop of 2011's 'Arcade Dynamics' with the sprawling synthesizers and sharp production of 2013's 'The Flower Lane'.
Lead single of 'St. Catherine', 'Headbanging In The Mirror', opens with a reverb-laden guitar line before wallowing keyboards and Mondanile's distant vocal join the mix. Unlike much of the material on 'The Flower Lane', in which electronics and keyboards determined the direction of the songs, the tracks on 'St. Catherine' host an even balance of organic instruments and synthesizers. Although this sharp, well-calculated result may be due in part to the fact that Rob Schnapf, who has worked with Elliot Smith and Beck, was on production duties, credit must also be given to Mondanile who has evidently honed his sound and assimilated aspects of the previous two Ducktails releases to find a well-balanced mix on 'St. Catherine'.
Yet, while past influences ring true, with regard to the lyrical themes he addresses on the album, there seems to be a departure from previous material. The religious imagery scattered throughout the album often creates a sombre effect when set against the melancholic instrumentation. On 'Heaven's Room', for example, Julia Holter provides guest vocals which resonate amongst stark strings and glittering synthesizers whilst Mondanile discusses confessing his sins and finding himself "lost in heaven's room". Moreover, religious suggestion permeates title track 'St. Catherine' as Mondanile alludes to "the image of an Angel's eyes" and being "blinded by the light".
Compared to previous Ducktails releases, 'St. Catherine' certainly has a heightened sincerity both with regard to the themes it addresses and the ways in which such themes are executed and articulated. Yet, amongst the album's often earnest lyrical themes, that which prevails is the placid, trouble-free outlook which flows so effortlessly throughout all of the Ducktails output. Specifically, on 'The Laughing Woman', synthesizer chords pulse as Mondanile discusses the tension between a carefree woman and her concerned husband. The chorus asks the woman the question "Can you stop thinking life's a joke?" before the track eventually concludes with the suggestion that "maybe the laughing woman's been right all along". It is this tension between sincerity and nonchalance which persists throughout the album and unifies the jovial pop, the religious imagery and the explorative instrumentals.
So, although the sombre, earnest lyrics of many of the tracks on 'St. Catherine' take Ducktails in a new direction thematically, the drifting, half-contemplative sound, which has been central to all of Ducktails' releases, remains the most appealing feature of the album.
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