Road Trip Review: Ducktails and more

A live review from the Cat's Cradle

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Ducktails
City Paper intern and contributing writer Jansen Cumbie hightailed it outta town last week for a triple-band gig in the Tarheel State. He caught Deerhunter, Ducktails, and Casino Vs. Japan in action at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C., on Oct. 9. Here’s his report:

The past few years have given way to a proliferation of artists thinning the line between noise and pop. Last June, Wire journalist David Keenan coined the term “hypnagogic pop” (hypnagogic being the state between being asleep and awake) in an effort to classify these artists, noting the faux-nostalgia and kitsch that often permeates the genre’s songs.

A centerpiece in Keenan’s article was the artist Ducktails, a.k.a Matt Mondanile, who’s also known for his guitar work in the band Real Estate. With song titles like “Pizza Time” and “Art Vandelay,” there’s a certain retro playfulness to Mondanile’s music, which is composed mainly with old Casio keyboards and recorded in his parent’s basement.

Ducktails shared the bill at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle with drone-veteran Casino Vs. Japan and the noise-pop masters of Deerhunter. Given his recent success, it would be interesting to see how the bedroom-pop of Ducktails would translate to a larger-capacity venue.

Mondanile opened the set with “Beach Point Pleasant,” one of his better known songs that defines the Ducktails canon. With bright tones from his keyboard weaving through the speakers, Mondanile extended the song into an improvised jam, ultimately improving upon the original. And then, with my expectations running high for the rest of his set, he put the keyboard away and picked up his guitar. The rest of his set was filled with more straightforward pop songs, which I assume were culled from his upcoming full-length Arcade Dynamics. It could have been because I was unfamiliar with the newer material, but most of his guitar-driven songs felt like unfinished sketches of songs, with no immediate hooks to latch on to.

Deerhunter
After Ducktails was Erik Kowalski, a.k.a. Casino Vs. Japan — a member of the experimental sound community since 1998. Huddled to the right-most side of the stage, Kowalski was virtually hidden behind a collection of mixers and keyboards. I was unaware the artist had even started until several minutes into his set. Part of this was due to sound problems, which made it difficult to discern the variations on the artist’s drones. With no visuals, this made for an unexciting show, giving the audience nothing to view but a man twisting knobs on a mixer.

The sound problems must not have been the venue’s fault, because Deerhunter took to the stage sounding great, opening with “Desire Lines” from their recently released album Halcyon Digest. Frontman/guitarist Bradford Cox ran his vocals through a variety of pedals, creating a live-controlled wall of sound that never veered into cacophonous territory.

Though the band stuck mainly to tracks from Halcyon Digest, a few older tracks made their way into the set, including “Hazel. St.” and “Spring Hall Convert.” The band sounded great, but a few problems plagued their set.

The extended jam section of “Nothing Ever Happened,” known for its build-up into one of the greatest codas of 2009 never came to fruition, with Cox preferring sparse stabs at his guitar’s muted strings instead of playing lead. It could have been because it was the first night of the tour and the band wasn’t comfortable, but they seemed rather bored, with guitarist Lockett Pundt hardly ever facing the crowd. Even bassist Josh Fauver, usually the most energetic of the quartet, gave a rather restrained performance. Fortunately, the band sounded good enough that the music stood on its own. —Jansen Cumbie

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