By Brian Riewer | 4 November 2011
This New Jersey-by-way-of-Brooklyn band’s debut, the mellowly self-titled Real Estate (2009), was the rare kind of first release that felt fully realized, content, right off the bat. It shrugged off showmanship and carefully orchestrated catharsis in favor of selling us on nothing but immediacy and the pleasure in having nowhere else to go or nothing, really, to be. Mingled within the subdued percussion and breezy guitars was the expectation that its listener would just continue, I dunno, listening, that the listener could remain unaltered and un-catalyzed by the music. That such a way to engage with their music was just fine.
Unlike fellow reprobates like Best Coast, Real Estate’s intention isn’t to drown the listener in the band’s daily slog, but to remake the same mundane slog into something to cherish. Lyrics about walking through a sprinkler on a hot day and sneaking into a neighbor’s pool while said neighbors were at work describe inertness as a higher plane of appreciation, simplicity of self as beauty, and, most importantly, life—any life—as infinitely fascinating in and of itself. Real Estate walk alongside green rivers; they sit in the shade of beech wood trees; they make doing so sound more desirable and fulfilling than anything one can imagine. But at the same time, Real Estate’s approach allowed little room for growth without dismantling and starting over. That was Real Estate, in other words, and that was all Real Estate would ever be.
Which is why—despite being fond of Real Estate—I didn’t have much faith left for Days. My best hope was a regurgitation of their debut; my worst: a stale impression of an aesthetic which never looked like it would bear much fruit in the first place. And in many ways, I was right: Days is undoubtedly a Real Estate record, its indie/surf rock recipe so formalized and crystalline one could effortlessly pick it out of a lineup of its peers. Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile erect somnolent guitar parts whose understated complexity is blended and diffused by the cushy production applied; this cohesion is woven into a hammock, swaying slightly via Courtney’s sighing vocal work, Courtney occasionally peeking between interstitial spaces before coyly retreating. Topics are as purpose-driven and abrasive as a gentle August breeze; floating inner tubes, decaying leaves, and pointless car rides form a compendium of the blithe lifestyle of the New Jersey slacker. If you’ve heard Real Estate, then none on this should be particularly new to you.
Yet Days somehow amounts, on the whole, to something familiar, yes, but decidedly better, slight tweaks reusing but reanimating the band’s brand; it’s alchemy, the way Real Estate combine the exact same elements only to get gold in return. “Green Aisles” dances like sheets drying on a clothesline, cotton-y guitar work layering and billowing into an arrangement only this quintet could conjure up. Due in large part to more blanketing production work, the song is fairly categorically chillwave, its gauzy tones not putting it out of step with anything on Puro Instinct’s glossy Headbangers in Ecstasy (2011)—this, despite “Green Aisles” sounding like Real Estate and Real Estate sounding nothing like HIE. “Kinder Blumen” shares a common lineage with past instrumental tracks like “Let’s Rock the Beach” but is washed with the watery tones of Mondanile’s solo Ducktails project, which heretofore have never shown up on Real Estate’s radar. It’s a welcome dose. And “All the Same” swells and breathes like a surf rock number before spiraling sweetly into a Grateful Dead-esque jam session, closing out the record with a weirdly fitting spin for a band that at first blush seems consistent enough to set your watch to.
The most shocking developments for Real Estate, though, are when they embed elements seemingly outside their scope into their rote song structures. Its genuinely tickling, for a band that never much stepped out of the vocals/guitar/bass/drums paradigm of their indie rock niche, when “Municipality” builds up tension into the chorus and then breaks with a puttering piano piece; despite being foreign to their sound it coalesces majestically with their baser parts, its instant familiarity both improving and reaffirming the metrics of Real Estate’s approach. “Out of Tune” is guilty of similar progressive alterations—the band’s tempo seemingly settled into a slight breeze before an abrupt time change punctuates the line “you’re all out of tune,” switching, then, just as hurriedly back—but is outdone by the overtness of “It’s Real,” its crests riding higher than anything else attempted by the band. Alongside the swift pace pulled by Alex Bleeker’s bass, the chorus glides gently but rapidly upward, multiple vocalists brushing against the clouds one always imagines accompanying this band’s music, while Courtney himself seems shocked to admit, “It’s real,” as the song descends back to the terra firma.
And in those moments, those larger than life peaks that push them a dimension ahead of their debut, it feels as if the image—the inner tube; the sprinkler; the sylvan nap—is emerging from the television screen. Like Dorothy seeing color for the first time in Oz, what real Estate is up to is somehow familiar to us but radically different, expanding the scope of our senses to take in a depth of perspective we never knew existed before. I think the cinematic comparison is apt: Days is like seeing one’s young life through a movie camera lens through a grandparent’s barely-color television, the ugly and grey ever-present but particulated and spread out between Technicolors, like a pleasantly overdubbed pointillist painting. It feels both classic and surprisingly new; this is Real Estate, and this is all Real Estate will ever be.