From the esoteric bedroom recordings of 2008’s Landscapes to the eighties synth pop transformation on 2013’s The Flower Lane, Matt Mondanile’s music as Ducktails has been both a precursor and a change of direction in relation to his other project, Real Estate. With St. Catherine, Mondanile is blurring the lines between his own oddball baroque pop and the bleary-eyed indie rock of Real Estate’s Atlas, grabbing hold of a new highly personal style of songwriting in the process.
Named after St. Catherine of Alexandria – the saint of knowledge and virtue – St. Catherine sounds more like an early autumn’s day spent in Barcelona’s Santa Maria del Mar than your classic English parish, a sweet Indian Summer hue colouring its every moment. ‘Heaven’s Room’ has elements of gothic in its architecture – a slick dream pop tune that evokes a surreal sense of youthful wonder with lush keys, hazy vocals (contributed in part by the magical Julia Holter) as well as sweeping string arrangements – something Mondanile has now become deft at. Singles ‘Headbanging in the Mirror’ and ‘Surreal Exposure’ meanwhile offer up some of Mondanile’s finest pop songs to date, with wistful melodies, infectious pop hooks and misty imagery that form songs as suitable for late night bedroom reflection as they are for soothing on scorching summer days.
Where The Flower Lane told strange, lucid stories that were shrouded in mystery and shivering synths, St. Catherine is toned down and more forthright in its personal storytelling, elevated by the gorgeous production of frequent Elliott Smith collaborator Rob Schnapf. Using his relationship with the catholic church as a hook, Mondanile takes us on a journey that at it’s core is about love, from its honeymoon beginnings to its inevitable end. “My calls and texts don’t get to you / I just wish to hear from you soon / until you do / I wonder how you spend your days,” he sings on the crushing ‘Medieval’, one of Mondanile’s best songs to date and a great example of Mondanile’s inner struggle as well as the muscularity Schnapf brings to his music. St. Catherine is Ducktails grown up: it’s the same revelatory realisation between Either/Or and Figure 8 that a songwriter can go from gritty lo-fi roots to grand, ballroom-sized compositions given time.