REVIEW: Real Estate

March 10, 2014

For New Jersey band Real Estate, album number three is a transition to the most mature songwriting of their career. It’s also their most beautiful work to date. Atlas broadens the scope of the group’s indie jangle-pop, with Martin Courtney‘s lyricism taking a serious turn as his band grows just that little bit older and just that little bit wiser.

Real Estate’s first two albums, 2009’s self-titled debut and 2011’s Days, were both sun-streaked indie-rock optimists. Atlas is more of a realist. With Courtney now a father, we find him analysing the man he is today. He questions himself and his future to the point of almost helpless melancholia.

I’m just trying to make some sense of this, before I lose another year… Cause it’s so hard to feel in control here,” he sings on stunning album highlight The Bend. “I don’t wanna die lonely and uptight, stay with me, all will be revealed,” he pleads on Crime.

The Bend collapses into a slow psych-rock spiral before the uplifting Crime contrasts colourful guitars against Courtney’s bleak narration. “Toss and turn all night, don’t know how to make it right, crippling anxiety,” he sings, in an almost joyful tone. This becomes one of Atlas’ odd and recurring juxtapositions – upbeat music contrasts with bleak yet cheerfully delivered lyrics.

Watch: Real Estate – How to play… ‘Crime’

Their most collaborative effort to date, Atlas features new member and keyboardist Matt Kallman, formerly of Girls. Recorded with producer Tom Schick in Wilco’s loft studio, the record captures the effortlessness of Real Estate’s measured sound.

Behind the lyrical honesty of their frontman, the band make their signature guitar interplay more immersive than ever. Roomy open chords and bright leads are intricately layered into warm pockets, but tracks like How Might I Live and The Bend, which nod strongly to the cold and brooding sides of bands like Radiohead and The National, add some refreshingly icy tones into the mix.

That said, Atlas is more lyrically dynamic than it is musically dynamic. Its momentum plateaus at times but its lyrical poignancy never wanes. “This is not the same place I used to know, but it still has that same old sound,” Courtney muses on the nostalgic and suburban Past Lives. Like the two albums before it, Atlas instantly conjures imagery of blue skies, stars at night, rows of houses, an endless sidewalk, old neighbourhoods and new ones.

Atlas reveals Real Estate collecting their thoughts, pooling their creative resources and experiences, and, to a degree, beginning the next stages of their adult lives. Having now extended their sound beyond the ‘endless summer’ cliches of indie-rock, and having developed an emotional intimacy within their music, the band have matured into one of the genre’s most talented groups. Atlas will no doubt remain difficult to top.

‘Atlas’ is available now.