As we learned from a string of (primarily) West Coast bands in the last couple years, summer is no longer a time of year. It’s actually a feeling and has a distinct sound – something that can be created with relative ease if you know what you’re doing. The lackadaisical warmth glowing off of records by bands like Best Coast, Tennis, The Drums, Beach Fossils, The Morning Benders and Wavves could make even the most brutal of winters seem that much more bearable. It was like taking a mental vacation to the beach. Real Estate also fell into this category, though the boys are from New Jersey. The cover of their 2009 self-titled debut album had what appears to be some triangle-shaped thatch hut with bright blue skies behind it. Their first single was titled “Beach Comber”, and it was a delightful romp through the sand filled with people tanning and playing volleyball and frisbee and that one guy who carries around a metal detector searching for buried treasure. The rest of the album follows suit, even as the closing track “Snow Days” recounts “February down by the shore” where the “waters never freeze/despite the ice and snow”. They can’t stay away from the beach even in the middle of winter. 2011 has seen the beach-bound sound fall a little by the wayside, the result of overexposure more than anything, but that doesn’t mean a great record can’t push through such challenges. Real Estate’s sophmore album “Days” tries with grace and polish to reinvigorate our love for that partly cloudy sound, and it’s amusingly apt that they waited until the fall, where the swim trunks and surf boards are traded for jackets and heaters, to release it.
For those familiar with Real Estate’s debut album, you know it was a rather ramshackle lo-fi effort, recorded on the cheap and collecting a number of songs written in the band’s earlier days. In that sense there was an unpredictability and rawness to it, which was partly charming but also proved imperfect. “Days” seeks to correct that by upping the recording quality to a standard layer of sheen and pulling together 10 tracks that have all been written and recorded within a small time frame. The result is added beauty and a welcome cohesion that creates additional depth for a band that might otherwise have run out of ways to keep us interested. In a way all these songs are instrumentally cut from the same cloth and utilize the same instruments in the same way each time, but the melodies and tempos are just variable enough to avoid falling into a bland or whitewashed template and remain individually memorable. A big part of that comes via the serpentine guitar work of Matt Mondanile, whose work on tracks like the instrumental “Kinder Blumen” and the 7+ minute closer “All the Same” make for interesting detours from the band’s poppier side. And through all these rather laid back yet hypnotic melodies, the band never sounds like they’re trying to do too much or too little. Nothing feels over-long or extraneous, as if they’ve whittled each track down to only the barest of essentials. Such a balance is not easy to come by, and it’s a big part of what makes “Days” work so well.
The lyrical cues on this record largely keep with Real Estate tradition, as on opening track “Easy” where there’s talk of “floating on an innertube in the sun” and running “around the fields”. The guitars jangle and light touches of xylophone bring an added sparkle next to the dayglow vocal harmonies. The shimmery “Green Aisles” speaks of “aimless drives” through the tree canopys and street lights of suburbia as part of a “careless lifestyle”. If you’ve ever done exactly that, not only will this song trigger said memories, but it comes across like a soundtrack to them as well. The immense relatability to the stories and images presented in these songs is part of the album’s charm, and even if you grew up in a big city surrounded by crime, there’s a certain idealized aspect in these songs that functions well as escapist fantasy too. If nothing else, there are moments such as “It’s Real” and “Out of Tune” that worm their way into your brain and stay with you, even as you become enamored with other tracks on the record. They’re not all highlights, but they’re all purposeful and enjoyable in their own way, and there’s not much more you could ask for.
With “Days”, Real Estate lives on to fight another day. That’s not meaning to suggest they’re fated to eventually wind up in the post-hype bin with hundreds of other artists, but their sound at the moment doesn’t lend itself to long-term sustainability. There’s only so much lazy day nostalgia you can take, and as with any good thing there are bound to be copycats to dilute the potency of what’s already being done. Real Estate is fortunate that off their debut they had something with which to improve upon. They made all the necessary upgrades, and have outdone themselves thanks in no small part to the sheer talent of each and every band member. Hopefully those same guys will be able to spark yet another wave of creative innovation for next time, because much like summer itself, the winds change and those once green aisles of trees turn brown and lose their leaves.