Not Not Fun

It takes a certain strain of sonic esoterica to pry Primitive Futures away from the normal regiment of singles clubs and on-the-cusp basement bands, and Ducktails, the bedroom project of New Jersey native Matthew Mondanile, have created an album that is neither noise nor nothingness, brutally abject or cushioning ambient. This is music that tends to exist above the scale and spectrum, inhaling and exhaling, bubbling over into amorphous shape. It’s the perfect antidote for homogeneity and the perfect soundtrack for a sultry day in the sand—headphones necessary.

If it weren’t for Mondanile’s very public inclusion in the bands Real Estate (amplified soft-pop) and Predator Vision (brown-acid psych-rock), the intent of Ducktails might remain shrouded in mystery. That’s the vibe at the heart of this record, at least until Mondanile begins to sing on the penultimate “The Mall.” Everything before that moment, though, orbits a sphere of escapism and a freedom from convention. Sure, if you were to ask him about form and structure and what each song was born from, he’d likely shrug it off to simply letting go. Even if it’s not tried and true improvisation, the roots rarely stay put.

On the surface Ducktails closest known relative would be Blues Control, as both employ distant loops, synth-noodling and wah-wah’d weirdness to arrive at their destinations. But Mondanile places his guitars in the most visible light, constantly twisting and curling like rising smoke from the opium den. Again, if we weren’t aware that Ducktails was composed by a tropical-fixated bohemian from the East Coast, it would be fair to assume this was found among a crate of lost pressings from South Asia and West Africa. “Beach Point Pleasant” presents this treasure map of sorts, spiraling around in an unwieldy 10 minutes of tin-can guitar raga and a repeated organ echo—in a way it stops time. But Ducktails’ debut is not all sublime frequencies and postcards from imagined landscapes. On “Daily Vacation” the beats come into focus, forming an almost mystical disco emanating from the same bedroom where we just heard the tribes meditating, or better yet is “Gem,” a “song” that veers between oscillating drones and a forest full of synthesizers. If Mondanile didn’t take comfort in scratchy whispered fidelities, it could be the equivalent of Boards of Canada losing their wits amongst the absence of electricity.

Some doubt in Ducktails’ abilities can be found in the aforementioned “The Mall,” where Mondanile finds it an invitation to sing, breaking the moody calm the rest of the record and never quite matching with the sinewy quality of his playing. I’m tempted to request that Mondanile save the singing for his mates in Real Estate, a group that have become easy to warm up to, and approach future Ducktails excursions with even less focus. Turning Ducktails into a song-oriented franchise, with rules and regulations and lyrics attached to actual feelings might ruin it for all of us. I’m more in the preference of the transcendental magic the man can stitch together with a guitar and some bent circuitry, scroogey as that may sound.
Kevin J. Elliott