(Mexican Summer; 2010)
By Lindsay Zoladz | 29 January 2010
The enduring relationship between indie rock and suburban ennui is a tricky affair. Though the latter is perhaps the single deepest inspirational source from which indie rock springs, the de facto attitude on the subject asks bands to reflect antagonistically, to feel a gentle contempt at what it means to live on a freckle on the face of the world—or, to feel that, to echo the Red House Painters’ iconic chide, “New Jersey ain’t the whole world.” Ostensibly just another indie rock debut record about said suburban ennui, Real Estate’s self-titled album (2009) was part of a grand tradition while still refreshingly able to fly in the face of all that well-worn Kozelek-ian sentiment. We’re talking about a record that contains the almost-completely straight-faced line, “Carry me back to sweet Jersey / That’s where I long to be,” and is able to seem both familiar and rare. It was neither a trite rejection of all of the above, nor an excessively nostalgic celebration of it—it was an embodiment of restless paralysis. Real Estate was slack but never stagnant, like an embrace with limbs asleep; it moved, albeit in a sort of drizzle, with the lazy, shiftless progression of a raindrop down a fogged up passenger side window. It was, I think, one of the most promising debuts of the year.
Now, a few months later, Real Estate give us Reality, the requisite promising-debut-follow-up EP; you know: the one that further develops a couple of threads introduced on the record proper, the one that is a favorable continuation of the band’s burgeoning sound even if its highlights don’t quite soar to those of the recent LP. Most of these threads (Spiral Stairs riffage; incessant beach and water imagery) weave together splendidly on the EP’s first proper song, “Basement,” which sounds a little bit like “Box Elder” dissolving in a couple inches of bathwater. Singer Martin Courtney’s voice rarely approaches anything resembling intensity, but here his anesthetic delivery erects a vaguely eerie sense of space and then a slow-creeping claustrophobia (“See me in the basement watching the water rise / See me in the hallway avoiding everybody’s eyes”). Following track “Drum” is even sparser, just a nursery rhyme melody overtop chords strummed so slowly one can hear them coming unbound in midair. The lyrics straddle the line between sweetly simple and stupid before a few too many half-baked rhymes (“People were there / You asked me not to stare”) upend the song’s dreamy atmosphere.
What’s left doesn’t quite pick up the momentum “Drum” fumbles. “Younger than Yesterday” is unremarkable; “Saturday Morning” is pleasant enough, but struggles to evoke the vaguely doleful tone that instrumental opener “Motorbikes” can so effortlessly. Reality ends on an auspicious upstroke, though, with “Dumb Luck,” a buoyant six-minute jam about slipping in and out of things (children’s books, lucid dreams, and, I suspect, the pleasantest of mid-afternoon drug-induced reveries). Slipping away is often the defining action of a Real Estate song, though it almost always involves slipping back just as easily. (Of suburban dogs, on the self-titled: “They’ll run from your house and come back the same day.”) There’s something of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” in this band: restless movement hedged by sterile, restrained landscapes; the way familiar things wobble and warp when refracted underwater; vague suggestions of midday inebriation. If nothing else, Reality is a refresher on Real Estate’s languid pop and an invitation to give their entrancing debut another afternoon.