Former Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile’s sixth proper studio album with his band Ducktails is a smartly sequenced collection of hypnogogic pop that ranges in influence from 80s-inspired soft rock, synth-pop, and R&B to 90s indie rock stylings. The record’s beautifully produced, consistently optimistic instrumentation and pristine sound quality cleverly obfuscate Mondanile’s sometimes subversive lyrics. It’s this disparity, however, that makes Jersey Devil a compelling listen.
“Map to the Stars” opens the record, crashing into focus with the gentlest combination of crisp drums, dreamy electric piano, and playful flute before Mondanile enters with a reverb-heavy guitar and airy, near-whispered vocals. The song wouldn’t sound a bit out of place in a softly lit hotel lounge. “Light a Candle” steps things up slightly tempo-wise without losing any of the light rock appeal of its predecessor. “Let’s burn this city to the ground and dance upon the ashes,” Mondanile sings during the chorus, cleverly offsetting the track’s otherwise peaceful groove. Not all of Mondanile’s lyrics are this edgy, however. “Keeper of the Garden” is a sweet tribute to the singer’s mother. “I have never loved a woman more than I love my mom, she’s the keeper of the garden in the silvery fog, if you see her give her flowers ‘cause she’s been through a lot,” Matt sings during the charming synth-heavy number’s chorus.
Jersey Devil’s second half brings a few pleasant surprises that manage to not only reinforce Ducktails’ ability to competently slide into unexpected genres, but also help shake things up and keep the listening experience from becoming stale. “Mannequin” utilizes a funky bass and electric piano to create a smooth R&B vibe that has Mondanile longing for a lost love, comparing himself to a department store mannequin to analogize his helplessness. The record’s penultimate track, “Shattered Mirror Travel”, is a return to the deceptively upbeat tracks with melancholic lyrics on the album’s first half. Over a simple beat and cheerful chords, Mondanile sings, “Many times I felt distraught, giving up my will to love, disappeared to skip the pain, screamed at myself under the rain.”
Fans of less aggressive indie rock bands that came to prominence in the mid-90s, in addition to aficionados of more current chillwave and retro-pop acts such as Neon Indian and Ariel Pink, will find a lot to love on Ducktails’ latest full-length. Matt Mondanile proves himself to be not only a gifted composer with a wide range of influences, but also a skillful lyricist with a keen understanding of the components that help make an otherwise ordinary bedroom pop album a much more interesting experience that holds up well after multiple listens. Jersey Devil is a solid record from beginning to end.