by Rebecca Gayle
Killin' The Vibe feat. Panda Bear
Real Estate guitarist Matthew Mondanile returns as Ducktails with Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, which brings his signature lo-fi cassette sound back for a third release. On Arcade Dynamics, Mondanile moves away from the heavy reliance on drum machines that permeates his earlier release, Landscapes. The drum machines haven’t entirely disappeared from Arcade Dynamics, but they do take more of a backseat, allowing the listener to more fully appreciate the beautiful wash of guitars and tamborines that appear throughout the album. The relative absence of strong, prominent drum machines in this Ducktails release is refreshing in that it allows the album to better create its own atmosphere and place.
Perhaps the strongest element of Arcade Dynamics is its ability to create a particular space. The meandering songs and subdued, somewhat tip-toeing vocals and instrumentation carve out their own niche throughout the album. Each of the tracks’ elements unite to effortlessly transport the listener to a tropical beach / zen paradise peppered with nostalgia to reflect on the passing of time with Mondanile himself. The qualities of Arcade Dynamics manage to take the listener on a leisurely aural journey, but one that has a direction and refrains from putting the listener to sleep.
The album opens with “In the Swing,” an instrumental track that sets the stage for a leisurely listening journey – and one that starts in a very reflective, nostalgic place. Following “In the Swing,” “Hamilton Road” adds some vocals, as well as additional energy and direction, as if pulling the listener away from the swing and walking them toward the beach, where they are left to wander for the majority of the album. After “Hamilton Road,” the core meat of the album – the middle nine tracks, which are offset by very passive opening and closing instrumental songs – picks up the pace and steadily maintains it, perfectly balancing the album’s meandering tendencies with some sense of direction.
Every element of Arcade Dynamics does a wonderful job of creating this zen space, where both movement and stationary reflection balance and feed off of each other. Mondanile seems to be aware of this, pacing the album’s tracks beautifully in terms of building up energy and taking things down a notch in all the right places. Many of the songs’ lyrics even reflect this timely give and take. “Hamilton Road,” for example, references this ebb and flow through the tide: “We sit by the water / And feel the ripples of the tide / The ocean’s dancin’ with the shoreline / And the current’s waving goodbye.” “Don’t Make Plans” also addresses this lack of direction and yet still goes somewhere with its catchy energy. Even though Mondanile sings, “Hey man, do you have a plan? / I don’t have plans to be a man / Hey, man, what’s with all your plans? / I don’t make plans, I waste them, man,” by the end of the track, he’s making plans, asking, “Do you want to go outside? / … / Do you want to stay indoors? / … / Stay out ‘til the sun comes up / Drinking in a field with girls.”
It is this lyrical and instrumental paradox of not going anywhere in particular, while still maintaining some kind of vague direction, that makes Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics refreshingly well-balanced. Although some songs seem a little slowly paced while others feel slightly misplaced, as a whole, the album’s tracks balance and round out each other very well. In terms of individual tracks, the standouts on Arcade Dynamics include “Art Vandelay,” “Killing the Vibe,” and the sweeping ten-minute instrumental “Porch Projector,” which, as the title suggests, evokes the feeling of sitting in a rocking chair on a porch, watching some fireworks far off in the distance.
With Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, Mondanile successfully creates a beautifully reflective, subdued, and well-balanced musical space that contrasts nicely with Landscapes, his previous release, to round out his musical breadth as Ducktails as skillfully as it rounds out Arcade Dynamics as a whole.
Killin' The Vibe feat. Panda Bear