Release Date: Mar 17, 2017
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
With their fourth full-length In Mind, Martin Courtney and co. have returned with yet another perfectly crafted record to follow their exceedingly masterful and critically acclaimed Atlas (2014). With a little elaboration, we hope to explain why the New Jersey boys are so much more than a cult buzzword for chai latte drinking bearded folk, and how their music is a step above the rest.
The beauty and the banality of the everyday will always be the focal point of any Real Estate record. Naturally, the course life takes can either disrupt or enhance what are essentially long stretches of time-sucking triviality, and it's not as if the now bi-coastal band are really too concerned with giving added preeminence to those life-changing moments we cherish and seek. Things don't change too much even in the intervening periods that can mark some definitive change, but what we'll essentially go back to is that warm feeling of comfort and normalcy.
Real Estate have never been ones for taking giant leaps. Not for them any sudden changes in genre, double gatefold concept albums or other signifiers of a band wanting to "expand their horizons". Instead, the New Jersey outfit's career to date has been one of subtle shifts, quietly refining their pastoral indie-rock over the course of three albums. At a time when the genre is receiving criticism for its relative timidity, such steadfastness might seem like a strangely risky move.
Has there ever been a band more 'well timed' than Real Estate? They emerged at the tail end of the previous decade when indie-rock and all its weird mutations (remember Chillwave?) with a suitably on-trend debut and 'matured' their sound with every release since. If this is a cynical reading of Real Estate's success, let's be clear - the New Jersey five-piece get away with it due to their consistently terrific songwriting ability. It's been eight years since Real Estate's excellent debut self-titled album, a record in which you could practically hear the Jersey shoreline washing away in the background of their suitably chilled out indie-rock, and it was to little surprise when Domino picked them up from their local friends Woodsist Records shortly after.
For a bunch of barely 30-year-olds, the members of Real Estate sure know how to make some stellar soft rock. That's not meant as an insult— their last album, Atlas, is one of the best albums of the last several years, drenched in mid-tempo melodies and lyrics about returning to a home that doesn't quite fit anymore. That kind of emotional honesty coupled with imagist lyrics give Real Estate a kind of subtle power belied by their easy-listening stylings— however perfect their warm guitar tones might be.
Probably the biggest news item surrounding 2017's In Mind, the fourth LP from sauntering daydreamers Real Estate, was the exit of founding member and lead guitarist Matt Mondanile, who left to focus on his solo project, Ducktails. Another Ridgewood, New Jersey native, Julian Lynch, stepped in, himself a veteran collaborator of member projects including Real Estate, Ducktails, and Alex Bleeker & the Freaks. It's hard to imagine a smoother transition on the beachside sunset of an album that is In Mind.
For their fourth album, mellow Brooklyn-based dream poppers Real Estate find themselves on perhaps their finest form to date. Propelled by a slight shift in line-up - not to mention main man Martin Courtney settling into life as a new dad - there's a sprightliness to these 11 songs that was largely absent in the tempered folk-rock of their previous three records. Opener Darling's melancholy, lazy lilt and glossy production give a slowed-down nod - intentional or otherwise - to Dire Straits' Walk Of Life, down to that song's distinctive, defining riff.
Nine years into a career as indie rock's preeminent guitar-pop band, Real Estate has never made a bad album. In fact, they've been so reliably and thoroughly exceptional that it has been easy to overlook that they've been more or less writing and rewriting the same song over and over, albeit masterfully. But even the most reliable bands start to go a bit stale without a little bit of reinvention.
When Real Estate named their last album Atlas , it was likely done both in earnest and irony. "It's a subtle landscape where I come from," sang Martin Courtney, as he traced the anxieties contained within the sidewalks, horizons, clocks, and shadows of his suburban hometown. The New Jersey band captured the way that a few square miles can feel like the whole world, but also intensify feelings of isolation.
Real Estate are boring. Their landscapes are dotted with unassuming flora and fauna like a Bob Ross painting. They've got a dozen wonderful songs nestled into three albums that piece together their boring-ness in a way that's hard to decry. Their debut captured the "beach" band trend and the early releases on Captured Tracks, though it sounded clearer and less liquid.
After third album 'Atlas' proved a breakout record, the pressure was on for Real Estate. In an alternate timeline, its success could've prompted the band to go bigger on LP four. But Real Estate have found their niche, and they're not about to leave it. 'In Mind' shows a band comfortably in their stride.
Over their first three albums, Real Estate seemed to have found the formula for making good records. They had mastered the art of layering an endless supply of hooks, riffs and melodies on top of each other without disorienting the listener, gently balancing out their latent jam band tendencies in the process. Before long, the group took their rightful spots alongside Mac DeMarco at the fore of the jangle-pop revival. But while the band quickly found their stride and stuck to it, In Mind exposes the fragility of their framework.
For nearly a decade, Real Estate have made music as blissful and unhurried as a cat lolling about in a sunbeam. Their endless reserves of tranquility have led to being labeled as a "chill” band, a disservice to the power of a calm state and the humbling moments where one takes a deep breath instead of capitulating to anxiety. Such a wandering, euphoric heart might bring be perceived as a lack of inspiration, but nevertheless they’ve stood their ground: "Our careless lifestyle / It was not so unwise." Their new record, In Mind , is their longest yet, and their first without founding guitarist Matt Mondanile, who left the band amongst mysterious circumstances.
The old John Peel adage about The Fall being "always different, always the same" might be fruitfully adapted for New Jersey janglers Real Estate. For here, truly, is a band that is always the same; or perhaps more pertinently: always brilliant, always the same. Expecting them to change on In Mind, their fourth album, is like expecting Werther's to change the recipe of its Originals or Land Rover to get into ice skates.
The Garden State can count some of the finest musicians of the past fifty years among its illustrious ranks, and most residents will point to Bruce Springsteen as their champion. For decades the E-Street Band has channeled the aspirational romanticism of anyone who has wanted to turn off the Jersey Turnpike and never look back (i.e. everyone), and you can find that strain of thought in Jersey artists from Titus Andronicus to Fetty Wap.
Martin Courtney has made it his job to unearth the sentiment buried in totems of the past. The house you grew up in. Bleary-eyed teenage haunts. A shady lane. All are fodder for Courtney on his quest to orient himself in time, and make sense of, well, getting older. Having recently withdrawn from ….