Posted on March 10th, 2014 (12:52 pm) by Nick Manai

Probably the most immediately identifiable aspect of Real Estate’s music is the lazy, yet glowing, strum of Matt Mondanile’s guitar blending into the echoing hush of Martin Courtney’s vocals. They build an almost hypnotic state, as easy to get lost in as to sing along. On Real Estate’s first two albums the hypnosis was a release from the pressures surrounding you, songs that felt like those iconic scenes from The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is lying on a pool raft with a beer, the sun in his eyes, but not much else. Atlas, the New Jersey group's third full-length effort, still plays to their strength of looping pop, but this time theirs is the hypnosis of frustration, disappointment, uncertainty. It’s as though all those lazy pool days have caught up with them, and now they’re feeling a little helpless, a state just as easy to be lost in.

Of course a helpless Real Estate, is still one capable of deft pop structures that manage to sound densely intricate but are really frighteningly simple. Consider standout “Crime,” which at first listen seems like a friendly tornado of circling hooks and guitar leads with a bass line and drum kick so tight it must have taken months of takes. Now, track down the tabbed tutorial the band has released for “Crime,” a gift unmistakably revealed to show just how smart it is to keep it simple. “Toss and turn all night / Don’t know how to make it right / Crippling anxiety,” Courtney sings, a long way away from those aimless drives through green aisles back when it was not so unwise to just head out for a drive.

“Crime” doubles with “Talking Backwards,” one of the best pop songs of any year, as the most quickly paced songs on Atlas, they also reflect Courtney’s strongest songwriting. “We can talk for hours / Then the line is still engaged / We’re not getting any closer / Your too many miles away,” he sings hopefully. As the guitars fill in and the drum keeps pace, it's hard not to believe in the old Real Estate: can’t things always go back to the way they were? But life is not as easy as it once was on Atlas as Courtney asks his lover if he is making any sense at all, it seems to him he could just be talking backwards.

Like Days, Atlas offers a sublimely beautiful two-minute spot from bassist Alex Bleeker, and a look at his two songs reveals a lot about where the band is coming from this time around. There was nothing happy about “Wonder Years,” there was a tough break-up and even a good amount of existential dread (“wonder years passed me by”) next to the infectious doo-doo-doos’s. But in 2011, when he sang “No I’m not ok / But I guess I’m doing fine,” there was an appropriate amount of distance involved, as though whatever problems he had was nothing a good song and a beer couldn’t fix. In 2014, Bleeker is not bellied by pop hooks but rather lays himself bare around a slow build and asks, “How might I live to say you're not the one I love?” A lot of people will call this Real Estate’s “mature” album, and if they’re right, maybe a part of maturity is dealing with problems upfront and in the open.

“Had to Hear” and “The Bend” blend the constants in Real Estate’s career thus far, jangling hooks and heavy bass movements, but it is hard to not keep returning to how much more involved the vocals feel in the message. Courtney seems more urgent then ever to tell you something, and while it is not always as smartly crafted as on Days it can hardly be said to be feigned. By the time you reach “Navigator,” the last song on Atlas, most of your defenses are probably gone. There isn’t anything left but to give over to the strong ruminations on the passing of time and the tearful cry of Mondanile’s guitar.

Track List:

  1. Had to Hear
  2. Past Lives
  3. Talking Backwards
  4. April's Song
  5. The Bend
  6. Crime
  7. Primitive
  8. How Might I Live
  9. Horizon
  10. Navigator
Real Estate: Atlas
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

86 / 100
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