Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Real Estate: Days (2011)



This ceaselessly friendly, backward looking '80s-styled New Jersey band crafts music that is as instantly appealing as it is impenetrably slight. Credit where credit's due, though: this is certainly one of the slickest guitar albums in recent memory, and Real Estate stands alongside bands like Local Natives and the Morning Benders in the crafting of almost supernaturally pleasant pop that's laconic and relaxing but never obnoxiously so. Days takes you back to the days when "chilled out" was an uncomplicated virtue.

As songwriters, Martin Courtney and his bandmates don't craft much that bubbles to the surface of their frothy jangle-pop basics. But while it's on, the stuff is undeniable, largely because of Courtney's hypnotically dreamy vocals. There is just as much filler on Days as on the band's 2009 debut, meandering instrumentals and aloof soft-rock shoegaze both, but everything's so flawlessly pretty it's hard to care too much while it's on. The issue is that nothing here leaves enough of an impression to merit an addiction, the same exact problem that kept me from completely embracing the band the first time around. But there's a case to be made that you don't always need memorable songcraft to warrant dogged devotion to a band. I, for one, used to fall asleep watching The Alternative on VH1 Classic when it dawned on me that college rock had its own pale formulas just like everything else. If irresistibly chiming guitars are enough to keep you coming back, this might be the album you've been waiting for; if you need something more, this will likely pass quickly but enjoyably through your digestive tract.

Still, as "Green Aisles" shows, there is something to Real Estate that they haven't quite yet figured out how to tap into: this ethereal and ghostly R.E.M. imitation conjures up such appealingly hazy, emotional imagery and nearly approaches the room-spinning perfection of a lot of the best '80s jangle pop. Repeat listens really get this one under your skin, and the subtly gorgeous underpinnings of material like "Younger Than Yesterday" slowly come into view, calling to mind the acoustic-vocal sorcery of Great Lake Swimmers or Smiley Smile. With time, this young band may prove to be in the noblest of traditions. As it is, they are masters of dreamlike atmosphere if nothing else.

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