Ducktails Backyard

[Release the Bats; 2009]

Styles: psych pop, surf, children’s music
Others: Predator Vision, Emeralds, Pocahaunted, James Ferraro
{{Link:}} [Ducktails→] - [Release the Bats→]

First of all, if you are a diehard fan of pop composer Matthew Mondanile, if you collect the tapes and splits and LPs of other clever and likeminded musicians releasing music through Not Not Fun, if you’ve got ’em and love ’em all, this CD may not be for you. A glorified reissue, this Release the Bats print contains within it Ducktails’ previously-run 1992 demo, Mondanile’s side of a split cassette, and the outstanding Ducktails II. So if you have these releases, don’t waste your money, because there’s really only a few minutes' worth of previously unreleased material on here.

Yet, as increasingly more cassettes and 7-inches are run and printed in this lazily-lumped “hypnagogic pop” movement, as fanatics of the sound get wrapped up in every release and every run, we are all slowly but surely losing sight of the general lack of cynicism, the naïveté, the dream-like niceties that are each and every little track of each and every little group that's pressing each and every little tape. Decades down the road, musicologists and music therapists will look at the music of Ducktails and wonder how, without sampling music of yesteryear in any literal sense, each release manages to evoke memories of years past, memories in no way associated with music that came out years, decades later. They’ll look at chord progressions, at the melodic movement, at the recording circumstances and techniques and scratch their heads in confusion. It may be a false nostalgic construction, but each little bedroom recording seems to harken back to a more "innocent" time. It is almost precious to see these scrawny little guys, who normally obsess over harsh noise and drone, hording little tapes and singles like little boys collecting baseball cards, swapping and bragging. Got it, got it, want it, got it, want it. An adorable and fitting sight for music like this.

Matthew Mondanile’s music is silly, tacky, kitschy, and incredibly bright. His self-titled LP blew minds with how competently it was executed, how obvious and genuine it was. The music sounded like what a young New Jersey suburbanite imagined the sounds of the West Coast to be, which is exactly what the album was. Indeed, the music seemed to be the aural equivalent of a plastic flamingo, just some processed mold of the tropical experience to put in front of your homogenized lifestyle in a housing development. It was escapism, simulacra -- it was whatever you want to call it. Yet its brilliance lay in the hints of possibilities made, how it doesn’t only have to be this funny little brand of fake surf music, how it can be something more bizarre, more psychedelic, more cerebral. Indeed, this potential is put to use in Ducktails II, Mondanile’s little cassette, not even breaking the 30-minute mark. Ducktails breaks boundaries established by the debut, with opener “Tropical Heat” washing ears over in sonic mescaline, in a desert of chords and echoes and reverberations over hiss and oscillations. While a few songs on Ducktails’ self-titled effort make second appearances not only here, but also on 1992, it seems natural and fitting, albeit a tad redundant.

One of the most tolerable aspects of the music of Ducktails is its general inability to sound like a retread of ideas from prior releases. What separates it from the music of Skaters' James Ferraro, or of Emeralds, is how short each song is, how pleasantly infectious the melodies are, how happy it all truly is. The whole purpose of this type of music is to forge new musical ideas through the means and moods of nostalgia, right? Well, I simply do not see how that is possible through a 17-minute tape side. This is where Ducktails wins eardrums over and how it one-ups Mondanile’s other project, Predator Vision. It's also why the 13-minute “Dreams in a Mirror Field,” the last song on Backyard, fails to affect in the same way “Let’s Rock the Beach” does, with sounds that massage your lobes while you remember being seven and riding your bike on the sidewalk.

The aforementioned “Let’s Rock the Beach” is four minutes and fifteen seconds of memory. With the snare relegated to rim clicks, the percussion sounding distant, down the hall, and nothing else remaining but two guitar lines dancing around each other, the song feels like it was recorded as an incidental score to Super8 footage of a family outing, of pre-teens skateboarding in an abandoned car lot in the 90s. It's pretty and innocent without being patronizing, yet it also feels so strangely like childhood, like glorified examples of children’s music -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Ducktails’ 2007 demo, 1992, honest-to-god sounds like the basement tapes of a young and ideal teenage musician in 1992, obsessed with the arcade and equipped with only a karaoke machine and an instrument or two. The title is very much an extension of the year's aesthetic. Even the title of the opening track, “Crstal Vision,” sounds like a goddam arcade game, and the song doesn’t stray too far from that notion. While the last minute of the song sees Mondanile getting a little ambitious and noisy, the rest of the track is cheesy guitar chords and an upbeat synthesized drum loop, but all real damaged-sounding, like the tape had seen its share of wear and tear over the years. Meanwhile, “Theme to Cruising” actually sounds like the theme to a video game called Cruising, with a big corny guitar melody pushing through years of static, as if this hypothetical game came out in the 80s or something. The song then takes a psychedelic turn, with the fuzzy bass line and that signature NNF vocal style squealing and shooting through the mix. The track ends in a house full of ghosts.

The experimentation doesn’t end there, however. Time opens up and tones turn to opiate noise on the split’s “Why Am I Here?” a standout here that, surprise, is actually longer than four minutes. At a little over six and a half minutes, the track is without a time signature, concerned with nothing but fuzzy tones and negative space. Yes, the melodic lines are ever so pretty, and yes, they hint at a seemingly more simplistic time for mainstream pop, but this track seems more concerned with the path each sound is forging, with the trail of beautiful sounds stoked out of simply a keyboard, guitar, and tape deck. Notes cascade up and down, phase in and out, and a few even poke through and distort with the volume.

The moment the vanguard of noise and psych players are digging into low culture of decades past is the moment when one begins to wonder what at all is good with the experimental community. Indeed, reading interviews with James Ferraro can get grating in how pretentious he seems about his music. Yet listening through Backyard, one can't help but imagine how nice the person on the other side of the magnetic tape is or appreciate the general lack of pretense or relate to the excitement he exudes when simply thinking about his brand of pop music. This album is noisy, is poppy, is childish, is druggy, is weird, is normal, is fuck you -- just listen to it.

1. Crystal Vision
2. Pizza Time
3. Rhubarb Girl
4. Theme to Cruising
5. Double Team
6. Vanaselian (Trees)
7. Why Am I Here?
8. Extending Self
9. Chill Jam
10. Sun Out My Window
11. Topical Heat
12. Backyard
13. The Mall
14. Afternoons Tray Sliders
15. Boating
16. Island Flavor
17. Let’s Rock the Beach
18. Status Quo
19. Udelco
20. Neptune City NJ
21. Dreams in Mirror Field

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