Of the thousands of songs I heard this past year, narrowing a list down to my favorite 50 was exceptionally tough. There was plenty of heartbreak and disappointment upon the realization that some great songs were being left off of that final list. So in the spirit of giving attention to even more great music, please take these extra 25 tracks and give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them already. They’re listed in alphabetical order so as to not prioritize any one over another. The only rules are that the tracks must have been part of a 2017 album, soundtrack, or single release. While you can click on the play button below any song title to hear it streaming (via YouTube), there’s also a Spotify playlist embedded at the very bottom of this post should you prefer to listen that way. Cool? Cool. And make sure to keep an eye out for my Top 50 Songs of 2017, which will immediately follow this post.
Tag: real estate
This is it! The final post of 2014 also marks the conclusion of Listmas and specifically this Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. It’s been a long road with plenty of bumps and delays along the way, but we’ve finally reached the peak of this imaginary mountain. At this point I’d like to give a special thank you to everyone who read something, clicked on something or downloaded something here at Faronheit over 2014. All of the content that’s posted here is for you to discover and enjoy, and I’m grateful for anyone who visits with that intention. It hasn’t been the best year for the site content-wise, but the hope is to generate more and return to form in 2015. Typically I’d tease a bunch of new features and exciting things in development for next year, but honestly most of that stuff either gains no traction or simply falls off never to be heard from again, so let’s just stick to the mantra of more everything and go from there.
So what can I say about these Top 10 Albums of 2014? Well, like the other entries in this list, there’s plenty of variety in terms of genre and style. It goes from weird to fun to noisy to sexy to relaxing to adventurous and back again. If you’ve been following me on Instagram these last few weeks, you’ve been given access to an early preview of the eclectic Top 5, though I can assure you that #6-10 are as equally exciting and wonderful. And hey, while I wasn’t able to write a lot of album and show reviews this year, some of the ones I did write about make an appearance here. Also worth mentioning: a particular pair of artists who are members of my Class of 2014 had an exceptionally great year, helping to continue to support that program. So I’m not going to spend any extra time talking this up. Please join me past the jump for the big reveal of my absolute favorite albums of the year.
In the formidable challenge that is counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014, today is the day we reach the halfway point and then keep going. The songs are getting progressively better, more epic, catchier, and more emotional. That’s how lists like this work. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s already been covered in the previous two installments. Click here to see #50-41 in the countdown. Click here to see #40-31. Is there a theme to the set of 10 songs featured in this particular post? Not that I’ve been able to discern. You’ll find a couple of hip hop tracks, a couple of R&B cuts, a couple of synth pop numbers, and some other things that can sometimes feel like they’re straight out of left field. It’s nice to get a little unpredictable from time to time. So here we go: The Top 50 Songs of 2014 #30-21!
Join me after the jump for a collection of photos that I took on Day 3 (Sunday) of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Photos are arranged by set time. They are also available in higher resolution on Facebook. Check out my full recap of the day, as well as all the rest of the coverage by clicking here.
Have you checked the weather forecast for Pitchfork this weekend? I have. Partly sunny skies, with temperatures in the upper 70’s and low 80’s for all three days. In other words, it’s looking to be a perfect weekend, weather-wise. Make sure you wear sunscreen! That’s a top priority. Also, you might want to be aware of what you are and are not allowed to bring with you onto the festival grounds. The last thing you want is to wait in line at the gate, only to be turned away because you brought a folding chair or something. Check out the rules concerning approved/prohibited items, along with policies related to photography/recording and other important bits of info. Also, are you aware that there’s a record fair, poster fair and craft fair all on the grounds of Union Park? Yes, this festival is about more than the performances and the food/drink necessary to keep you alive. Do some digging, especially if you’ve never attended before, so you can plan ahead. Speaking of planning ahead, here’s your preview guide for the music on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned previously, the artists are paired according to the hour of their time slot. I’ve included a little bit of information about each, and my official recommendations are denoted with a **. In case you missed them, here are links to the Artist Guide (aka playlist), Friday preview and Saturday preview. Stay informed, stay protected and stay hydrated!
Speedy Ortiz [Blue Stage, 1:00]**
Mutual Benefit [Green Stage, 1:00]
Sunday is the day with the most artist conflicts for me personally, and it starts immediately with Speedy Ortiz and Mutual Benefit. Stylistically speaking, the two bands are pretty different. Speedy Ortiz is throwback 90’s garage rock, in a style somewhat similar to Veruca Salt or The Breeders. Their album Major Arcana was one of last year’s finest, and they’ve already followed it up with the Real Hair EP. Speedy Ortiz are a pretty great live band as well. If you’re in the mood for some distorted rock and roll in the early afternoon hours of Sunday, check them out. Of course if you’re attending the festival all three days, by Sunday you might be pretty worn out already. Maybe you’d prefer to ease into the day with something you can just kind of sit down and enjoy. This is where Mutual Benefit comes in. Their album Love’s Crushing Diamond was one of my absolute favorites from last year, reviving the carefully orchestrated folk sound that was largely propagated by Sufjan Stevens several years back. The record is so warm and comforting. I’m not sure if it’s ideal festival material as you bake in the hot sun, but with a good breeze and some shade it could be quite lovely. I’m putting my vote towards Speedy Ortiz here only because of their energy, but honestly you can’t go wrong showing up early for either of these two bands.
DIIV [Red Stage, 1:45]
Perfect Pussy [Blue Stage, 1:55]**
The two bands performing in this time slot share a fascinating commonality that you might not realize. While the styles of music they play are very different, both of them craft songs based around sonic textures and the emotions that they can inspire. For DIIV, it’s about guitar-based dream pop melodies that drive forward with unflinching confidence. For Perfect Pussy, it’s about hardcore punk rock that’s so ear-piercingly loud that you believe the world might just be on fire. Both bands have lead vocalists, but you can barely make out what they’re saying on every song, either due to extreme reverb or simply being drowned out by everything else. The safe pick here is to go and see DIIV. Their 2012 debut album Oshin is pretty incredible and surprisingly accessible. They’re also working on new material, so expect them to try out a track or two on the crowd. Of course Pitchfork isn’t about safe. Having seen Perfect Pussy perform earlier this year, I can honestly tell you it was one of the loudest, most intense 18 minutes of my life. But there’s a brilliance and a sense of catharsis to it, largely in how the band legitimately gives you every last ounce of themselves on stage. If you get your hands on a lyric sheet, you would know that singer Meredith Graves is a true poet and she sings about some extremely heartwrenching stuff. Even if you can’t hear what she’s saying, you can FEEL it. Perfect Pussy’s set is likely to send a number of people running in the opposite direction. Those that stay will likely be rewarded with one of the best performances of the entire weekend. Bring earplugs specifically for this.
Deafheaven [Green Stage, 2:30]**
Isaiah Rashad [Blue Stage, 2:50]
Pitchfork likes to have a token metal band or two in the lineup every year, and for all practical purposes Deafheaven is that singular entity for 2014. But oh my what an entity they are. Last year’s Sunbather was probably the best metal album of the year, and certainly a top contender for best of the decade. It’s a 60-minute masterpiece that moves beyond what might be regarded as traditional metal and into the territory of post-rock and shoegaze without even blinking an eye. In other words, they reached across genre lines and managed to capture the attention and imaginations of a far larger group of music fans. With what looks to be an incredible set at Pitchfork, they’ll likely succeed in turning a whole lot more people onto their unique sound. If you’re not into loud guitars, you’re of course always welcome to check out Isaiah Rashad and his unique brand of hip hop. Much like a lot of the other hip hop artists on the lineup this year, Rashad stands out because he’s not afraid to get very emotional and confessional on his tracks. So instead of popping bottles of Cristal with some girls in a club to celebrate, you’re sitting alone in the middle of the night with a glass of whiskey, worried about personal crises or world issues. Outside of topical elements, the guy is a genuinely talented MC who can really string together a verse in a unique and impressive way. Both of these artists are great choices, so go with the one you might enjoy the most.
Earl Sweatshirt [Red Stage, 3:20]**
Dum Dum Girls [Blue Stage, 3:45]
It’s some kind of miracle that Earl Sweatshirt is performing at this festival. Just about a week ago, he announced that he was cancelling his remaining tour dates due to exhaustion. Initially that included his set at Pitchfork, but in the end he decided to honor the Chicago shows he had booked. There were probably some legal threats, and maybe even a bit of begging required to convince him, but he relented in the end. If you’re concerned that we may not be getting Earl Sweatshirt at his best, that’s sound logic. Ultimately though, even if he’s only operating at about 75% of his normal capacity he’ll still be worth checking out. His album Doris is proof of that. Plus, he’s still a teen barely old enough to drive, so I’m sure he can bounce back pretty quickly. When it comes to Dum Dum Girls, I’m a fan. They started out as this lo-fi garage rock band in a similar class with Vivian Girls, and have since evolved into a clean-cut pop-rock band with serious synth-pop leanings. They’ve had their songs featured in commercials, TV shows and movies, yet retreat from the spotlight just as quickly as they stepped into it. These days, the band is both pretty easy on the ears and pretty easy on the eyes. Interpret that however you’d like. I was all set to recommend them over an exhausted Earl Sweatshirt, but then I remembered about the complaints. It seems frontwoman Dee Dee Penny has had some vocal troubles for awhile now, and so their live shows can be a little hit-or-miss as a result. I’m holding out hope it’s going to be great, but can’t give them my full endorsement at this point. The risk factor is simply too high.
ScHoolboy Q [Green Stage, 4:15]
Jon Hopkins [Blue Stage, 4:45]**
ScHoolboy Q is a key part of what’s commonly referred to as Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Hippy” crew, which is basically a collection of talented rappers who are working to reinvent West Coast hip hop. Over the last few years, they’ve been doing just that, and Q is one of the most talented of the bunch. What I find most fascinating about him are the levels of contradiction in his work. His 2012 album Habits & Contradictions seemed to actively point them out, and then this year’s follow-up Oxymoron only pushed that idea further. Unlike many of the rappers on the Pitchfork lineup this year, Q is equally at home talking about the dangers and the dark side of gang life as he is celebrating it with wanton abandon. One minute he’s depressed about the street violence killing his friends, and the next he’s out on the corner selling drugs and essentially being part of the problem. These are largely characters and fictional stories that Q puts together, and in all honesty it’s made for a fascinating dichotomy. It will be intriguing to see which side of him he chooses to favor for the Pitchfork crowd. As far as Jon Hopkins goes, he’s also the sort of artist that shows off two very different sides of his personality. The man is a classical composer, producer and well-known keyboardist, working with everyone from Imogen Heap to Brian Eno to Coldplay, and that largely informs the sort of music he makes on his own. Think of it as electronica with a twist, because instead of simply chopping together samples of audio on a laptop or touch pad, Hopkins throws in splashes of keyboards here, or an orchestral section there. The results can be light, airy and fun, but there’s also a much darker and aggressive side he’s able to show off, in particular on his last album Immunity, which was one of last year’s best releases. In a festival setting, expect that sonic diversity to play particularly well, as one minute you’ll be relaxing in the shade while a glistening and summery track breezes by, and the next you’ll be up and dancing furiously, suddenly inspired by a hard-hitting beat. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. How about you?
Real Estate [Red Stage, 5:15]**
Majical Cloudz [Blue Stage, 5:45]
I’ve seen Real Estate perform in festival settings a couple of times before (including once at Pitchfork), and their particular brand of relaxed indie rock provides a very natural soundtrack to the day. If you can find a shady spot in the grass somewhere to just chill out and stare up at the sky, you’ll never want to get up again because all feels right with the world. Over the course of three albums now, Real Estate have been perfecting this sound, and it’s now reached a peak thanks to the nearly perfect Atlas record from earlier this year. It’s going to be a genuine pleasure hearing them perform the new stuff. Of course it could all go horribly wrong too, because if you’re stuck standing around in the hot sun somewhere, their lackadaisical style might not be enough to distract you from the pools of sweat building up across your body. It can’t be worse than going to see Majical Cloudz though. Don’t get me wrong, I love Majical Cloudz and their debut record Impersonator. The thing is, their music is completely allergic to sunlight, heat, and large crowds. Seriously, all of their songs are very slow, and so intensely personal in nature that an outdoor festival is the antithesis of where you should witness their performance. Devon Welsh is such an intense guy on stage too, and his ability to pull you into his dark and disturbed world is what makes every single Majical Cloudz performance so special. To witness that at 5:45 in the afternoon with the hot sun overhead? The power and intensity has to get stripped away, right?
Slowdive [Green Stage, 6:15]**
DJ Spinn [Blue Stage, 6:45]
The remainder of Sunday from this point onward is pretty much into the no brainer sort of territory. If you’ve never heard of Slowdive before, they were a shoegaze band that released three pretty great albums in the early 90’s, and then broke up. Now nearly 20 years later, they’ve decided to reunite, and Pitchfork will be their first show in the U.S. since 1995. That’s kind of a big deal, right? In a lot of ways, they fit in right alongside today’s modern bands like Deafheaven and Deerhunter, so you could almost say they’re more relevant than ever. Meanwhile on the Blue Stage, DJ Spinn will be playing some great electronica, if that’s your thing. He’s spent a lot of time working and collaborating with DJ Rashad, and the two of them were supposed to perform together at the festival until Rashad’s death turned it into a solo set. Expect Spinn to pay tribute to his close friend in grand fashion, meaning it should hopefully be an out of control, super fun dance party. Compelling as that sounds, Slowdive is just too important to pass up.
Grimes [Red Stage, 7:25]**
Hudson Mohawke [Blue Stage, 7:45]
Hudson Mohawke performed at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival as part of TNGHT, his collaborative project with Lunice. That earned him quite a bit more attention, especially since it helped him catch the ear of Kanye West. But at the end of 2013 the duo decided to go their separate ways once more, though the door remains open for them to get back together at any time. As a solo artist, HudMo is best known for his unique take on hip hop and R&B, often infusing those styles with other genres to form something truly original and unexpected. Where he ran into trouble was sometimes trying too hard or bringing in too many different elements so tracks ventured into overkill territory. Has he managed to scale back those tendencies in the last couple of years? Somewhat, yes. There is every chance he’ll put together a pretty great mix for his set at Pitchfork, but I still don’t think it will come close to matching what Grimes will be up to on the other side of the park. One of my absolute favorite things about Grimes is that she’s firmly committed to doing everything herself, and that means holding court on stage as she plays instruments, builds loops and modifies her vocals. 2012’s Visions put her onto everyone’s radar as an experimental pop star to watch, and since then she’s raised her stock considerably. She’s in the midst of recording a new album, and has already started to play some of the new songs in concert, to even more incredible response than before. Her new single “Go,” which was originally written for Rihanna, feels like a brilliant step forward in her sound as she inches more and more towards the mainstream. If there was ever a time to jump on the Grimes bandwagon, now would be it. She’ll be all over pop radio and playing massive venues before you know it.
Kendrick Lamar [Green Stage, 8:30]**
When Kendrick Lamar performed at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, he was on the small Blue Stage sometime during the afternoon. His debut album wasn’t out yet, but he was already getting praised by people like Dr. Dre, claiming he was the next great talent in hip hop. Hell, even Lady Gaga showed up to Pitchfork to see his set. Now two years and one album later, Kendrick Lamar truly is the next great talent in hip hop. good kid, m.A.A.d. city turned out to be an incredible achievement, and he’s managed to follow it up with some stellar guest verses on a number of tracks, as well as some high profile touring with the likes of Kanye West. I’ve now seen him perform a total of 3 times, most recently last fall, and each set was better than the last. The man’s come a long way and has earned the success he’s achieved so far. Now he returns to Pitchfork on a victory lap, this time with full headliner status. Realistically speaking it should be a great show, he’s likely to bring out more than a few guests (see: ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad), and might even preview a couple of tracks from his forthcoming sophomore album that’s currently being recorded. It will make for a fine end to a fine weekend.
FRIDAY: Day One Recap!
If you’ve heard a Real Estate record before, very little may surprise you about their new one Atlas. It’s another collection of lackadaisical songs with weaving guitar melodies supplemented by jangly chords. This time however, everything gets alternately clearer and cloudier. How so? Well, to start this is the first Real Estate album that’s been cleanly produced and doesn’t have touches of lo-fi haze built into it. Matt Mondanile’s serpentine guitar work benefits most from this adjustment, glimmering like a freshly polished diamond. It’s most effective on tracks like “Primitive” and “Had to Hear,” when you could almost refer to those lead guitar parts as another voice that acts in tandem with Martin Courtney’s silky vocals. This is a band that has quietly become a well oiled machine, as they now know what works and how to get there with the least amount of trouble. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the lyrics on Atlas, which bring the dizzyingly fun highs of their previous records down to earth. Real Estate were the sort of band that wrote songs about spending time at the beach or bumming around suburbia with your friends on a summer day, but now the sky has become overcast and the temperature has taken a nosedive. “Our careless lifestyle, it was not so unwise,” Courtney sang on “Green Aisles” from the band’s 2011 record Days. As nice of a sentiment as that was, those days (so to speak) are over, and now it’s time to grow up and be a responsible adult. Going along with that are relationship struggles (“Talking Backwards”), crippling anxiety (“Crime”) and the realization that everything changes and we can never truly go back (“Past Lives”). Pairing those emotions with the band’s trademark sound proves to be a rather inspired combination, resulting in their catchiest and most mature album to date. It’s also their best, right down to the carefully structured sequencing. All of this shows that Real Estate have certainly learned a thing or two both personally and professionally over the last few years. Now it’s time for them to teach us, and that goes well beyond simple guitar tab videos.
One of the best and worst things about Real Estate is that you can turn on any of their songs and instantly know who it is. The benefits are obviously the ease of recognition; that they have such a distinctive sound and style that you can pick them out of a crowd. Where things turn potentially bad is that with their third full length coming out soon, the idea of forward progression and general sonic evolution appears to elude them to a degree. Put this new song “Crime” on a playlist next to “Suburban Beverage” from their first album, and to the untrained ear they could easily have come from the same record, no matter if it was recorded in 2009 or 2014. Yet maybe the reason why Real Estate continues to pull from the same proverbial sun-soaked and lackadaisical mine a few years later is because it has yet to grow tired or stale. In many ways the music they make is born out of time, and with a clear lack of other artists following in their wake to drive the sound into oblivion, there’s no need to move from their current plane of existence. At least not yet. Looking at the guitar tabs for “Crime,” which the band kindly released in lieu of today’s traditional lyric video, it becomes instantly clear that as relaxed and practically minimal as their melodies may sound, there’s a lot more complexity to them than you might think. Maybe they really have been evolving this whole time in the most subtle and interesting ways, and we’re the criminals for not paying close enough attention to truly notice.
Let’s start with an introduction. If you’re not relatively familiar with Chicago’s local music scene, the band Minor Characters may not have ever registered on your radar. Their ultimate plan is world domination, but as with any band or person that ever had the drive to pick up and play an instrument, we’ve all got to start somewhere. In the case of Minor Characters, they first got together at the end of 2010 and have been working hard to pay their dues ever since. They play as many live shows as possible, and through that avenue have built up something of a cult following in Chicago’s local scene. That hard work has paid off in other ways too, which is probably why they recently placed third in The Deli Magazine’s poll of Chicago Emerging Artists for 2012. But the reach of Minor Characters does extend beyond the city of Chicago, as they’ve done a fair amount of touring out of town and will be making their way to SXSW in March to hopefully introduce themselves to crowds eager to hear what they’ve got to offer. Of course everyone is also welcome to discover them via their self-titled EP that was released in late 2011. Five tracks isn’t exactly the largest or best catalogue, but really those songs served as a great foundation upon which to build from. As the old saying goes, better quality than quantity. So that was a great start for the band, but they’re just getting warmed up. Their second EP Heal Me, Healing Times looks to expand upon what they’ve already done and showcase the great strides they’ve made in the last year or so.
It’s always interesting to see how bands describe themselves in press materials. Minor Characters say that they are influenced by 60’s folk, The Beatles and Radiohead. If you’re a music fanatic, that’s sort of like the holy trio of influences, and most artists would kill just to be mentioned in the same breath. But here’s the thing: just because you’re inspired by another band or genre doesn’t mean you have to conform to or sound like it. Sometimes it’s just nice to have that knowledge base going in, because if a band says they’re inspired by Nickelback and Creed, that might raise a red flag before you hear a single note. When it comes to Minor Characters, perhaps it’s best to say that they’re a mobius strip of different sounds that come together to form something that feels entirely familiar yet unique at the same time. For example, their guitars on a track like “Sun Trials” feel tuned to the frequency of Grizzly Bear, but the melody itself doesn’t quite have the same multi-instrumental layers or stark stoicism to make a true match. That’s not a bad thing, as the chorus soars and aches with emotion and the band makes some smart, creative choices when it comes to overall structure and lyrics. If you listen closely in the final minute of the song, a high-pitched, static drone slides into the background that nearly recalls the deflated ending of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” but in a much more subtle fashion. There’s also a few carefully picked notes in the verses of “Aurora Borealis” that bear an eerie resemblance to Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” though maybe that’s more the result of transference after reading the band’s bio. The opening title track can leave the taste of Real Estate in your mouth thanks to its lazy summer day start before getting a strong tempo infusion and becoming a rather addictive indie pop song. Between that and the heartbreaking piano ballad “Expatriates” that closes out the short set, the band’s diverse array of talents are well displayed here.
Enjoyable and compelling as the Heal Me, Healing Times EP might be, there are a couple of small issues with it that need addressing. First and foremost is the length. You get four songs and a total run time of around 17 minutes, which really passes by in a flash. You’re left wanting more, and while that’s always a good thing, it’s also frustrating because it seems like this band is ready to take the plunge and go for the full LP. There are likely reasons why they’re holding off on it, perhaps for financial reasons or to serve as a stopgap as they consider signing to a label. But beyond the EP’s brevity, there are moments on it that feel just a little restrained or held back from something greater. Right now Minor Characters are striking a precious balance between a very normalized, pop-driven world and off-the-charts experimentation. The songs are clean cut and catchy enough to satisfy large audiences, but the rather literary and expository lyrics paired with a few strange effects add just enough dissonance to give you a glimpse into a different dimension. Somewhere down the line, be it months or a year or two from now, they’re probably going to have to fully commit to which direction they want to take. One path brings mainstream success and money but little critical acclaim, while the other path is the more challenging but brings gravitas and integrity to their music. If they’re lucky and can do it right, maybe they can have both. Either way, they’re a band with a wealth of talent worthy of much bigger and better things than where they’re currently at. The Heal Me, Healing Times EP is proof of that, building upon their earlier material and setting them apart from the hundreds of other Chicago bands trying to reach that next great peak. To put it another way, Minor Characters are finally ready to step out of the background and into the spotlight.
Stream the entire Heal Me, Healing Times EP
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.