Release Date: Mar 4, 2014
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
In our current Ableton-fueled epoch, Real Estate’s unassuming commitment to craft seems almost deliriously uncool. Sure, the values that have come to define the New Jersey quintet—an eye for refinement and an unerring awareness of their own strengths—wouldn’t have been considered flashy during any period. But in an era where critical praise for indie-rock bands is usually qualified by some kind of statement about the waning relevance of guitar-based music, Real Estate’s ethos feels vitally contrarian.
Before their rich, sad new album Atlas, it would have been difficult to imagine the Real Estate song you'd turn to in a time of crisis. “Suburban Beverage”? “Let’s Rock the Beach?” The New Jersey band's first two albums were simply not places to which you brought problems—they were escapist havens, Tiki-torch grottos leading you away from your worries and gently towards the pool raft. The lyrics, meanwhile, were mantras best understood with a beer koozie gripped in one hand: What you want is just beyond your reach; keep on trying.
Dating back to the OG marriage of Budweiser and Sprite, the spatial focus of Real Estate has long navigated an interior sort of geography. 2009’s self-titled debut and its 2011 follow up, Days, nostalgically roved the New Jersey neighborhoods, trying to reconcile invisible distances between lingering dreams and the passing time. Atlas, the ever-weighty third album, finds this cohesive crew, past and present now in lockstep, considering how best to turn their internal dialogue outward and beyond.
“I find it hard to believe just one season is all I'd need,” confesses Martin Courtney on “Horizon,” the penultimate track on Real Estate's Atlas. It's a statement that's as honest and to the point as any of the other melancholic musings made throughout the band's third album. Embodying a distinctly seasonal tone is something Real Estate has been specializing in since their eponymous 2009 debut, and each effort since then has developed a more personal, confident sound that speaks to the group's delicate, wholesome approach to songwriting and guitar-centric tunefulness, as well as their antecedent indie-rock influences.
Jersey-bred indie rock golden boys Real Estate arrived in the late 2000s with a subdued approach to guitar rock that stripped away all unnecessary clutter and presented their tuneful songs in a manner as attractive and steadfast as primary colors, spring days, comfort food, or any of life's basic staples. Free of gimmicks, pretense, and artifice, their tunes tapped into the insular, college-aged melancholia of the Clean or Yo La Tengo's soft summer-night pulsations, later moving into a markedly Go-Betweens-steeped phase on their more sophisticated 2011 album, Days. With third full-length Atlas, Real Estate grow even further into the sound they've been spinning for themselves, mellowing more while they become more nuanced in both playing and production.
I generally like to think of myself as a pretty “chill” guy. For me, life is all about taking it slow and easy, and anything resembling something of a challenge is best avoided as to not totally ruin my buzz. You’re probably wondering exactly what kind of freeloading, East Coast slacker am I – do I prefer lounging on my buddy’s stoop in Williamsburg while sipping cheap beer in my violently-bright yellow hot pants or on the shores of New Jersey in cliché white-boy dreads while pretending to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or something chill like that on a cheap ukulele? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter, because either way, I probably listen to Real Estate.
With their sun-kissed melodies and chiming guitars, New Jersey's Real Estate attest to the notion that the best rock is often deceptively simple. On first listen, their third album sounds undercooked but dig deep and, gradually, the five-piece are revealed as a tranquil indie-rock outfit whose songs evoke the innocence of your early 20s while shot through with a sadness that imbues them with depth. There are traces of Galaxie 500, early REM and, on the jaunty Talking Backwards,Vampire Weekend, while frontman Martin Courtney is Ian Brown if he could sing.
It's as if New Jersey's Real Estate are trapped in a perpetual Truman Show-style summer holiday – riding around the same suburban streets on the same vintage choppers, feeling the same mellow angst for ever and ever. Not that this is a bad thing: the excellent follow–up to 2011's Days is caught between a blissed-out Byrdsy summer of love and Deerhunter's gawky awkwardness, while shimmering slacker guitars heighten a sense of nostalgia. Atlas is elegantly produced, but racked with uncertainty in its lyrics: Martin Courtney talks of "crippling anxiety" on Crime with the laconic delivery of a dosed-up LA housewife, while Past Lives – "I can not come back to this neighbourhood without feeling my old age" – has a glum ghostliness that's all the more haunting alongside such an idyllic soundtrack.
On their third full-length, Real Estate prove that their powerful mood music is no fluke. (The casually graceful Crime and the cinematically sombre How Might I Live are both intoxicating.) The New Jersey indie rockers are in complete control of their aesthetic: their hazy vibe never becomes inaccessible, and singer Martin Courtney sings so affably and softly, you can't help feeling invited into his benevolent headspace. The album plods occasionally, but then the band's mastery of mood shifts kicks in and a dreamy landscape and simple, jangly verse turn into a big, beautiful chorus.
On 2011 LP ‘Days’, Real Estate looked to have almost out-zenned themselves. Kicking back and letting loose of the limbs, there hasn’t been a more fitting companion to an awakening spring since its release - which says a lot. A good deal of focus afforded to this band tends to hone in at the aesthetic, an hours-going-by swing that would be nothing without its melodic touch.
By now, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with Real Estate. Their previous two albums set down their template of sunny, breezy, laid-back guitars and whispy vocals, and Atlas takes up the baton and runs with it. Yet while familiarity may breed contempt in some quarters, here it breeds a warm welcoming glow. Much of Atlas feels like walking into a warm home, with a fire ablaze and a comfy settee ready to sit on.
The power of Real Estate’s sophomore album, 2011’s Days, was hidden in the same elements that many interpreted as safe. On its own, the sunshine-beckoning feel of the New Jersey band’s braiding guitars — always loosely played, air-tightly arranged — paired with Martin Courtney’s throw pillow-soft vocals suggested stakes no higher than Atlantic tide crashes at ankle depth. That was deliberate.
For a record called Atlas, the third LP from Real Estate has an oddly ambivalent relationship with space and time. On the one hand, vocalist/guitarist Martin Courtney's lyrics suggest a man in flux, not sure what's next ("Horizon") or if that matters ("Had to Hear"). Conversely, he has no illusions about holding onto the past ("Past Lives").In short, he's in transition, yet his band has never been more confident.
Real Estate are, more than most, a band borne of their environment. Three friends, Martin Courtney, Alex Bleaker and Matt Mondanile, met at high school in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and have made music together, and apart, ever since. Their first album was released on Woodsist, a locally based label, before second record Days saw them graduate to Domino, where they remain.
These New Jersey jangle scientists tuck instrumentals into all their LPs (here, the wistful surf dream "April's Song"), and it's telling: They're out for guitar bliss, like a lilting pop version of Sonic Youth or Television. Their third LP refines the approach with keyboardist Matt Kallman, allowing guitarists Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile more curlicue time and adding a spacier vibe – "The Bend" even approaches Pink Floyd territory. And the murmured lyrics seem more consequential.
Real Estate’s second album, 2011’s Days, helped the New Jersey five-piece blossom from a cult concern into a band with serious crossover potential. The spiritual sons of IRS-period REM and Pavement, their combination of nimble, intricate guitar interplay and concise, understated songs set them apart from the pack. Atlas sees a further distillation of their sound; where once appealingly fuzzy, guitars now chime with crystalline clarity.
For a band that doesn't do bombast or fanfare, Real Estate may be concerned at the level of expectation surrounding Atlas. Their previous record, the wonderful Days, saw them step out of the lo-fi basement of their self-titled debut to wander in the blissful haze of the idealised American suburbs. Its pleasantly ramshackle songs effortlessly conjure up nostalgia, and are compelling just as flicking through a box of yellowing Polaroids found at the back of a wardrobe is irresistible.
Boy, Real Estate sure has done it again. Without a doubt, this is another Real Estate album. Atlas has all the hallmarks: clean guitars, open chords, the faintest whiff of melancholy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t begin to approach anything resembling an interesting idea. At its best, the album ….
Real Estate Atlas (Domino) "Less is more" when it comes to Real Estate's modus operandi. Like its predecessors, the indie quintet's third album dazzles wholly understated. A lean 38 minutes, Atlas plays out both tailored and unrushed, each of its 10 tracks arranged simply while sounding unequivocally lush. A breezy dream-pop landscape and smooth surf-rock guitar riffs juxtapose frontman Martin Courtney's lyrics; although masked in his ultra mellow croon, themes of struggle and solitude belie the music's carefree vibe.
opinion byDREW MALMUTH Worries about music that “all sounds the same” often remind me of the constant suggestions that our society is plunging head first into a suburbanized, standardized, technology-ridden dystopia devoid of all individuality and intimacy. These trends are worth thinking about – and, in many cases, rejecting until our last breath – but what should be avoided is the assumption that changes in the technologies, houses, or media around us translate into direct, coherent social effects. It is tempting to convince ourselves otherwise but agency can never be ignored.
First of all: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you had to read the words Real Estate and Mac DeMarco in the same headline. I’m sorry that your laptop or tablet or whatever started combusting in protest from the amount of breezy indie rock it was being asked to inhale. And I’m sorry that these are my two favourite records of the year.
Nobody wake up Martin Courtney. For five or so years, he’s been ambling through life as the frontman of Real Estate, a man at peace with his bliss and uninterested in finding a way out. The calm, earthy and delicate “Atlas,” the third Real Estate album, is less ambitious than its second album ….
The common theme running through all of Matt Mondanile’s work – both with Real Estate and his solo side-project, Ducktails – is a sense of everything being less complicated than it actually is. It was prevalent on both of his releases under the latter moniker last year; you could easily allow the dreamy soundscapes of “Honey Tiger Eyes” to pass you by on the Wish Hotel EP, before you realised quite how sumptuously he’d married the synths with spaced-out vocals, and The Flower Lane played a similar trick with its lackadaisical guitars. It’s not a criticism, of course – it’s just that to write off Real Estate as a band who write compositionally simple songs would be unfair when, in fact, they often display such a mastery of intricate, intelligent guitar lines.
New Jersey has a rich history of accomplished storytellers. A typical Bruce Springsteen lyric sheet could cover the height of the floor to the ceiling in your parents’ childhood bedrooms. More recently, bands such as the Front Bottoms have made names for themselves by loading their songs with hyper-personal suburban angst, while Titus Andronicus have packed enough historical and literary references into their albums to put a smile on any mosh pit-frequenting English major’s face.
Once thought of as a genre strictly of its time — that being the late ‘60s and early ‘70s — psychedelia has continued to flourish and paint its impression on modern music. So too, the dreamy haze of Southern California in its full ‘60s heyday still lingers large in the collective consciousness. Real Estate is well aware of that, not for purposes of exploitation but rather as a means of affirming their MO.
On Real Estate’s previous albums—an endearingly woolly self-titled debut; the excellent, vibrant follow-up Days—the balance between offhand and methodical was delicately maintained. Atlas, the New Jersey band’s newest effort, too often tips to the “offhand” side of the scale. Despite some strong material, the album is ultimately too light to stay grounded, too loose to stick.The record starts with the promising “Had To Hear,” an aching track featuring tightly interweaving guitars by Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile.