Real Estate - Atlas

by Pete Super Rating:9 Release Date:2014-03-03

There's tension and melancholy hiding under the constant mellow that is the primary take away from a Real Estate record. The fact it has moved slightly to the fore is part of what makes Atlas the New Jersey group's most engaging effort. Another part is the killer production work which puts this squarely in the ear-candy category. In typically outstanding fashion, the guitars chime and shimmer and even twang a bit. The upgrade here is in the drum and bass sound, occasionally recalling the warm sharp interplay between Rourke and Joyce of The Smiths on The Queen is Dead, or the sound on the great last Luna record, Rendezvous. Martin Courtney's vocals occasionally bring to mind Luna-era Dean Wareham as well.

As with every Real Estate record, it's an easy listen, but not 'easy listening', as I'm sure will be suggested ad infinitum. Ten tracks in 38 minutes is a part of that, but mostly it's due to it being a simply gorgeous and melodic affair. That's not to say it's all sugary bliss; there's a longing, and a sadness which colours the record. Minors and sevenths billow and dive, drawing you into Real Estate's world of Technicolor grey. There's something fundamentally American in Real Estate's songwriting: dusty highways, wide open expanses where one reflects on one's life for better or worse.

Vibrant and serene, the music seems to be craning its neck backwards slightly, checking certain boxes of reference without being a replica. My first thought was the brilliant and long dormant Glands and vintage 80s R.E.M.; a dash of The Feelies and Yo La Tengo; a dose of Luna, for sure. But what is more apparent than all the 'sorta sounds like' references is the sound of a band fully realizing their own signature sound.

It's more sweet than bitter, but it's that just-the-right-amount pinch of bitter which gives this record its legs and its claws. The opening lines to “How Might I Live” show the melancholy off most explicitly: “How might I live to betray you?/ How might I live to see the day?/ How might I live to say you're not the one I love?/ How might I find the words to say?” All done sounding as fragile and melodic as Dean Wareham ever has.

With three records working in the same sonic arena under their belt, it will be interesting to see how they choose to expand and flesh-out their sound. I'd like to go ahead and put my vote in for a whole lotta xylophone on the next LP guys. But no horns; do not go mariachi on us, Real Estate.

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