This article was originally written for Dauphin Magazine: http://dauphinmag.com/
Every day for the rest of December I’ll be recommending some music for your ears – or maybe it could serve as something of a Christmas gift guide. It’ll be a mix of classic albums, neglected gems and new bits of gorgeousness.
On first listening to this record, it seems that the name Real Estate is something of a misnomer. Why have a band so obviously enamoured with nature labelled themselves with such an immediate signifier of urbanity?
The songs are sweet and seemingly pre-occupied with dreamy, hazy days spent outdoors: from opening track ‘Easy’ (“in the sun, in the sun, around in the fields we grow…”) to single ‘It’s Real’ (“I carved our names into a tree; I walked on decomposing leaves”). This lends the album a sense of summery warmth that was more than welcome when it was released back in October. To add to this picturesque musical landscape, the instrumental ‘Kinder Blumen’ features a percussion sound that can only be ascribed to one of those wooden frogs you scratch with a stick. It is the sound of icicles melting and drip-drip-dripping; crocuses poking through cold ground, and swoon-worthy indie boys with lovely checked shirts romping around in the morning dew.
Lyrics like those above, breathily sung by Martin Courtney, do render the band’s name utterly incongruous. But around track six (‘Municipality’) things begin to make rather more sense. “I just want to be by your side,” Courtney sings, “in the municipality.” So perhaps this is a record less about nature than about yearning: sometimes for greenery and lakes, yes, but mostly for the right person to be there with. The continuity of this theme throughout the album is reinforced by the fact that a clear distinction cannot be drawn between songs about the city and songs about the country. Regardless of setting, the lyrics are consistently wistful, the guitars chime, and the driving percussion removes the risk of any shuffling self-indulgence.
The consistency of Real Estate’s sound could be equated with being monotonously fanciful, and such criticisms wouldn’t be unfounded. In ‘Green Aisles’, for example, the whimsy and jangle becomes almost painfully saccharine: lyrics such as “all those aimless drives… our careless lifestyles,” combined with the horribly synthetic piano that appears halfway through, force home a point that is pleasantly – for which read subtly – made elsewhere in the album. Even this song, though – arguably a weak point – is ably rescued at around four minutes by one of the gentlest drum crescendos (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron) you’ll ever hear.
Repetitiveness aside – and, actually, it means the album works very well as a whole – there is certainly talent on show here. If you like your jangle-pop swoony and utopian then this record will be a winner. If the very idea that jangle-pop might be a real thing gets your punk senses raging, avoid it at all costs. But you’ll be missing out.