You know I like apathy, discontent, and an overall general malaise in my art fix like the next guy. And a bit of snarky condescension always makes a song go down a bit rougher, yet satisfyingly cold as well. I mean really, wouldn’t you rather have disconnected sarcasm permeating the tunes you pump into your earholes through those tiny earbuds instead of honesty? Really? You would? Oh, okay. Then you might want to do something else for the rest of this review. You see, I’ve listened to Real Estate’s new album Atlas several times this week. I’ve spun it on the turntable every night. My son has played with the dog in the living room to it, flipping the record himself so he could keep that jangly soundtrack to the everyday things we take for granted spinning. I’ve listened to “April’s Song” as I cooked dinner more times than I’d like to say. “Had To Hear” has been the backdrop of more than one conversation about how the work day went and what homework was left to do. “Talking Backwards” has been marveled at on both my rocker/recliner and sectional couch. What I’m saying here is that Atlas is an album that’s already “lived-in”. It’s one of those albums that’s like some amazing old corduroy blazer you find at the Salvation Army that you can feel the history it’s seen. Real Estate have made an album that needs no preparation before putting it on. It’s an old friend that never needs warming up to. Atlas is one of the breeziest, laid back, and effortlessly beautiful albums you’ll likely hear this year.
Martin Courtney has a voice that is simple and plainspoken. He delivers lyrics about longing, lamenting yesterday, and being content with today as if he’s in conversation with an old friend. There’s no melodramatic delivery. Just a sligthly stoned sleepiness that comes with long drives back home for holiday or staying up till 2am drinking coffee with a long lost friend in a 24 hour diner down by the piers. Matt Mondanile has turned his crystalline jangly guitar work into a true art form. There’s nothing flashy about what he does, yet there’s something almost transcendent in the lines he plays on “Crime”, and the country-ish sway of “Primitive”. Alex Bleeker adds an almost orchestral touch to his rolling bass lines. Both reminiscent of Nashville swing and Philly soul. Jackson Pollis lays a steady beat throughout Atlas and newest member Matt Kallman fills the already lush sound with keys. With this lineup Real Estate has become this very tight band that shows some road worn muscle on this album. There aren’t any major changes in sound and style from 2011s excellent Days; just a honed-in concentration with the songs. The tunes are as long as they need to be. Nothing more or nothing less. And the songs are the best these New Jersey guys have penned. It helps that both Mondanile and Bleeker both have their own musical projects outside the Real Estate fold. I think this allows the band to concentrate solely on Real Estate, and not a “who gets what credit” sort of ego trip. So songs like “The Bend”, “Horizon”, “How I Might Live”, and “Navigator” can be as simple yet perfect as they can be.
With bands like Real Estate where members have other things going on outside the band I get worried that those other projects will take precedent over the main gig. And especially with Real Estate I worry an album like Atlas could be their last. I wonder to myself how they can do better than this jangly little wonder of an album? I mean, if you were gonna call it quits this would be the album you’d want people to remember you for.
It’s perfect. In every way.