Like his contemporaries Ernest Greene and Chazwick Bundick (better known as Washed Out and Toro Y Moi), Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile is obsessed with the power of archetypal adolescent memories, stringing out his ideas like hazy, yellowing photographs depicting Little League practice, family picnics, and familiar neighborhood haunts. Indeed, his work as Ducktails is everything the name implies: a reverent obsession with capturing the various childhood zeitgeists of today's thirtysomethings, be they Saturday-morning cartoons or marshmallow-filled breakfast cereal. The world he depicts, couched in the preteen mind, is a magical yet harrowing place, with everyday locations and scenes—the backseat of the family sedan, a neighbor's basement, the avenue across the way—taking on larger and more meaningful roles than they would in the sober world of adults.
The Flower Lane, Mondanile's fifth full-length in as many years, continues the Ducktails tradition of pairing wide-eyed reveries with melodies that sound as if they've been peeled from the opening themes of sitcoms from the late '70s and early '80s. And yet despite that oddly specific characteristic, Mondanile's gauzy, guitar-led sound maintains a certain amount of versatility, borrowing equally from a wide range of influences. Whether dabbling in psychedelic, organ-drenched garage rock or the airier, schmaltzier pop of REO Speedwagon and Air Supply, Mondanile uses his grab-bag approach to deliver a litany of diverse tracks: awkward-cool SoCal stoner ballad "Planet Phrom"; the Blondes Have More Fun-era Rod Stewart-meets-Al-Stewart sax groove "Under Cover"; and dreamy, mellow new-wave piece "Letter of Intent," punctuated by glittering chimes and a swirling, milky sine wave.
Beyond its flexibility, however, The Flower Lane succeeds mostly because of Mondanile's dedication to purity. Greene, Bundick, and others seem prone to regulating their retro stylings to mere flourishes, resulting in warmed-over chillwave containing only modest hat-tips toward their influences. But like Twin Shadow, Mondanile's evocations go beyond mere nods. The smoky "Sedan Magic," one of the album's best offerings, is a prime example of this, its chorused lounge guitars and twisting electric flutes sounding as if they were recorded over 30 years ago. Being a child of the '80s myself, the track conjures up the plush sounds of my youth with an almost eerie authenticity. In an age where watered-down, disingenuous music is prevalent even in obscure genres, it's somewhat refreshing that Ducktails' pursuit of recreating the sentimental strains of yesteryear is both earnest and near-immaculate.