Ducktails offer small pleasures on Jersey Devil

Jersey DevilThere’s no way we can discuss Jersey Devil without mentioning how it’s the first album put out by Matt Mondanile since his potentially acrimonious split with Real Estate. Now, he’s been putting stuff out as Ducktails for some time, which generally speaking hasn’t been a million miles away from the work being produced in his former parish. So it’s a not a huge change in direction; it is, however, noteworthy in the bends-inducing shift in scale between the two operations.

We noted earlier this year that Mondanile’s approach with Ducktails seems to be an attempt at capturing the essence of bedroom recording. In a live show, this was frustrating, a sort of rickety karaoke vibe. He had worked previously with a band (Big Troubles) backing him, so why not deploy some goons?

On record, however, the one-man operation of Ducktails makes a lot more sense. It’s strange, this record, in that it feels so, so minor. Real Estate – in no small part down to Mondanile’s sparkling guitar style – has always been an expansive band, that makes expansive music, that draws people together. Jersey Devil, on the other hand, feels miniscule, like a mixtape made by a sixth former for his friends in order to reminisce about the summer where it all it seemed like it was going to happen, but it didn’t in the end (it is, by the way, on Mondanile's own label).

Size, however, is not everything, and what we have here is a really wonderful minor record. It’s not going to change the course of music or your life; indeed, it’s a blessing that we don’t give out scores because there is no way that a critic, even of the bargain basement variety you’re currently reading, could in good conscience give this record a high score.

But that really doesn’t mean it’s a bad record. Indeed, it’s actually a lovely piece of work, one that makes you want to close your eyes, to fall into a bittersweet reverie on that one that got away, maybe all those years ago. Look, to be quite honest with you, it’s quite hard to pick one track from another – they all seem to follow a roughly similar sort of vibe – bouncy refrains, crisp but smooth verses, and emotive hooks in the chorus.

Mondanile’s mode is very much easy listening. His voice never rises much above a whisper, the bass runs are smooth, and the guitar jangles politely, with some soft keys thrown in just to make sure that every last semblance of a rough edge is ironed out. You might pitch it as an inoffensive relation of vintage-era Wild Nothing, by way of The Eagles. The Asian script on the front of the LP points potentially to 1986 Omega Tribe or one the other huge spate of Japanese funky easy listening outfits of the mid 80s, with whom Mondanile shares a penchant for both smoothness and emotional shifts in chord progressions between verse and chorus (think the end credits of an anime basically).

Jersey Devil is the kind of record that, while it’s playing, makes you feel special when you listen to it, like it’s been made and performed solely for your benefit. And hey, sometimes you can’t ask much more of a record than that.

Release: 6th October 2017, New Image

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