On St. Catherine, Matt Mondanile officially settles into the more focused, full-band pop forms that emerged on his 2013 Ducktails release, The Flower Lane, this time with co-producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck) bringing an extra touch of warmth and clarity to the Real Estate guitarist's sophisti-psych tunes. Though still experimental in spirit -- the opening track, "The Disney Afternoon," is a dreamy band instrumental, there's an echoey gossamer wrapping the whole record, and fellow experimental indie artists James Ferraro and Julia Holter make appearances -- the songwriting is sweet and somewhat streamlined, relatively speaking. As in prior Ducktails works, there's still some of the U.K. sophisti-pop sound and, particularly here, ghosts of Elliott Smith, not just in Schnapf's involvement but in Mondanile's vocal delivery and the songwriting itself (don't miss "The Laughing Woman"). Both sounds are front and center on "Heaven's Room," a particularly Elliott Smith-esque song, as if he once duetted with Prefab Sprout. Julia Holter provides ethereal, Wendy Smith-like backing vocals on the track. Speaking of Prefab Sprout, they also glisten through the jazzy and wistful "Krumme Lanke," the album's second instrumental. St. Catherine is poppier, even outright catchy, in moments like the jangle-sparkling "Surreal Exposure" ("Soundtrack to my life/I'll see you later tonight/Until then you'll realize/There's a reason we're alive"); the hazy, vibraphone-peppered saunter "Headbanging in the Mirror" (with James Ferraro); and the title track with its soft guitar effects and synth tones over persistent grooves, like floating on a current. The latter perhaps best displays a certain elegance in St. Catherine that unites the album along with its sound palette; it's kaleidoscopic but crisp. Recommended for admirers of The Flower Lane and Wish Hotel as well as Real Estate, the record may also appeal to fans of component sounds including '80s sophisti-pop, contemporary indie neo-psychedelia, and the bittersweet jangle of the Byrds -- all spun through Mondanile's flowy guitar-based prism.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson