New Album Review

Real Estate’s “Days”: Simple Can be Rewarding

Real Estate has fallen into somewhat of a song-writing algorithm.  I’m assuming their music making process works something like this:

  1. Lead Singer, Martin Courtney puts together a few chords and some lyrics.
  2. Matt Monandile (who has also achieved some praise for his exploratory guitar project, Ducktails) adds a catchy and psychedelic guitar hook.
  3. Alex Bleeker follows the ideas with some bass, and a simple, rolling rhythm is added to finish it off.

Almost every single song follows this premise…which makes it exceedingly frustrating to pin down what makes Days so good.

Real Estate has always focused on perfecting easy-listening surf rock that retains a certain sense of sentimentality. That uniqueness manifests itself in wandering melodies and ambiguous emotions. While their previous releases have found themselves situated comfortably in smaller indie DIY-centric labels, such as Underwater Peoples and Woodsist, this record had a lot to live up to. Getting signed to a larger indie label like Domino is a serious deal these days and rising to the occasion was probably a mixture of exciting and stressful. Having to deal with the additional room high-fidelity recording practices is daunting enough, not to mention all of the expectations that high-profile music critics have been prophesying since the band’s 2009 debut.

In no uncertain terms, Real Estate pulls it off with Days, all the while staying true to their earlier releases. What makes this record so fantastic is its easy-going demeanor. Every song fits into the larger context of the release perfectly. In particular, transitions seem extremely transient (in a good way) and no stand-out tracks eclipse the cohesive nature of the record. Instruments and vocals are clear and no instrument sits too high as to cause any obscurity.

In a gutsy move, Real Estate decided to re-record a song off their 2010 Reality 12", “Younger than Yesterday." When I saw this on the track-listing I was extremely concerned, having had one of my favorite songs (The Love Language’s "Brittany’s Back”) de-lofi’d, only to have much of its gusto disappear. For Real Estate, this was not the case. Being able to work with a proper studio setup helps the melodies and nuances of each song on Days stand out. Since the focus of Real Estate’s music has never been on emotional charge, the absence of grain doesn’t cause any loss of ambiance.

The only minor issue I wrestle with in regards to Days is that Real Estate stays a bit too “safe” in order to achieve continuity. Aside from the psych-heavy “Kinderblumen” written by Matt and the Garage croon on Alex’s “Wonder Years,” every song features Martin Courtney at the helm. While he is an amazing songwriter, I’d be seriously impressed if they could retain this album’s coherence with more flexibility in musical roles between the band’s members. “Out of Tune,” which features (or rather, includes) synth-styling from Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never fame, could use a bit more influence from the guest as well. It’s important to note that these issues have nothing to do with the actual music presented in Days, and are more of just wishes from a long-time fan.

In all seriousness, Days is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year, and its spot on the WKNC Pick of the Week column is well-deserved.  Make sure you listen to this one and go see Real Estate the next time they come to the Triangle! If you thought their guitars have impossibly brilliant tones on album…just wait.