Full disclosure, Arcade Dynamics is my first exposure to Ducktails other than a singular track featured on the Woodsist compilation Diggin’ The Universe. From what I gather, when compared with previous efforts, Arcade Dynamics is a slight departure in terms of its fullness and increased use of voice. Initial spins quickly reveal that this is very much a guitar album first and singer-songwriter second, Mondanile clearly letting his day job as guitarist with Real Estate seep into his bedroom side-project. Some of these songs, particularly those that feature vocals, are fully formed and if played live would require at least two additional band members. I couldn’t say with any great deal of certainty whether this shift is a good or bad thing but it is apparent to me that the songs that sound like traditional “songs” aren’t necessarily my favourite cuts on this album. With the exception of the happy-go-lucky ‘Killin the Vibe’ and slacker anthem ‘Don’t Make Plans’ it is the songs that lack Mondalines aloof and carefree melodies that tend to shine brightest. Take ‘Little Window’ for example, it might last less than two minutes and on any other album might be considered an interlude, but with Arcade Dynamics as a habitat it is perfectly formed and lacks nothing, especially lyrics. In fact, it is the warmth and texture of the music that feels like the focal point and the vocals where present, are often akin to an additional instrument. Album closer ‘Porch Projector’ is almost an admission of this, it’s a beautiful 11 minutes where solitude reigns over collaboration. Turns out that it is way cooler to sit and get stoned with a guitar, reverb cranked to 11, than it is to watch the fireworks (that can be heard in the distance) with everybody else. Arcade Dynamics may be a progression but every once in a while it is ok to regress, despite what your Mum might say. You would think that Real Estate provides enough scope to give any songs that Mondalines has knocking about the exposure that they deserve, I have no clue of their songwriting hierarchy though. Having said that, it’s ‘Don’t Make Plans’ that I decided to post below, a contradiction maybe, but even on this particular gem, I think the music holds its own alongside a killer hook. None of this is criticism, I’m really liking this album and there is no question, as there is with many solo projects, that its existence is not only warranted but welcomed.
The story goes as follows; married couple Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore spent seven months alone together on a sailboat travelling the North Atlantic. Giving up all of their worldly possessions they sought a life of minimalism and freedom far from the boredom and materialism of everyday life. The experience had a profound impact on the couple and became something of a muse for their debut album Cape Dory; a love letter to each other, born from nostalgia and the longing for a return to their time spent at sea.
Tennis’ sound is drenched in seawater and covered in sand, sporting the same kind of loose, jangly guitars that Real Estate, The Drums and countless others have popularised of late. The beach has become a tired and over used influence recently but the backstory here provides Cape Dory with a certain air of authenticity. Alaina’s emotive vocals complement Tennis’ laid back surf-rock vibe and lend Cape Dory a distinctive 50’s influence, helped along by the layers of fuzz and the copious ooh ooh’s and oh oh’s. By way of points of reference, if you’ve enjoyed recent albums by Best Coast and The Dum Dum Girls, chances are you’re going to enjoy this. Opener ‘Take Me Somewhere’ wades in all sultry and seductive and wastes no time in getting to the point; it’s 12 seconds before our first ooooh backing vocal, 70 seconds before the sea is mentioned and 90 seconds before you are slapped with a colossal hook, in under three minutes it’s all over. ‘Long Boast Pass’ and the title track keep up the momentum, adding a bit of meat to the music and reverb to the vocals, the hooks are what it’s all about though, the melodies are utterly infectious throughout. ‘Marathon’, for example was one of my favourite songs from last year and Tennis fail to better it, sounding a little cleaner and more polished it still stands head and shoulders above any of the other 9 songs that make up Cape Dory. The second half of the record lets its foot off the pedal slightly and whilst the songs remain decent, it struggles to maintain the high standard set by what preceded.
There is nothing particularly original about Cape Dory, it is what it is, inoffensive and lightweight pop music that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve, the beauty is in its simplicity and sweet sincerity. Some albums reveal their charms over time and evolve with repeated listens so if they are to be judged fairly, they should be judged retrospectively. By contrast, an album this instantly contagious should be assessed in the moment, in a reactionary manner before its effect dissipates. A lack of longevity or depth should not necessarily be viewed as a weakness; instead Cape Dorys strength lies in its immediacy and its throw-away nature. Tennis may be operating in a genre that is dangerously close to outstaying its welcome, but if you are looking for something to dance to whilst wearing a grass skirt, or the soundtrack to a 30 minute beach party this weekend, look no further.