Let’s start with the positive. Musically, St. Catherine, Ducktail’s fifth album, has some incredibly beautiful, exceedingly moving moments. The album opener, “The Disney Afternoon,” gloriously meanders in waltz time. Despite the saccharinely tongue-in-cheek name, it has an intoxicating mix of jazz, drone and psychedelic touches. It feels like the recording of this song was a happy accident, the result of a lazy afternoon in the studio that just happened to be recorded for posterity.
The watercolor blend of strings, guitar, and vibraphone at the end of “Heaven’s Room” is consciously overwrought (in the best way possible) and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s capable of causing even the most jaded of listeners to involuntarily suck in a deep, gasp-y breath as tears well up in their eyes. “Reprise” sounds like the result of a lo-fi collaboration between Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and soundtrack visionary Vangelis. For the underlying simplicity of the composition, it is uncommonly exquisite.
Now, the less than positive. While the compositions and arrangements are delightfully intricate, lyrically, this record is juvenile at best. This isn’t to say that all lyrics need to be overly complicated, boobytrapped with semotic weight and meaning, clouded in shrouds of unnecessary obfuscation. Lyrics can be short. Direct. Almost meaningless. As long as there is energy, intensity and intent behind the words, even something as linguistically simple as “T.V. Eye” by the Stooges can have a great impact on the listener.
“Surreal Exposure” is the worst offender on this record when it comes to inane lyrics. When you have a pseudo-psychedelic song that name checks Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” within the first stanza, you know you’re going to have something unbearably on the nose. If the vocals were buried down in the mix, adding more texture than content, this wouldn’t be an issue. When they’re right out in front of the middle of the mix, clear as day, it’s a little much.
The strongest tracks on this album are the instrumentals. They benefit from excellent writing, production and musicianship. If Ducktails took more time to explore the sonic landscape their songs inhabit, be it with extended solo sections or additional variations to counterbalance the underwhelming lyrics, this would be a much stronger record.