I love Real Estate’s new release, Atlas. And it really should not be a surprise. Their last full length, Days, might have been my favorite of 2011. The self-titled debut was not bad either. So it was to be expected for their third album to be up to par. It definitely did not disappoint.
Real Estate is truly a band that has gotten better over time. Their first album, Real Estate, has all of the makings of a low-fi acoustic gem. There may be glimpses of imperfection, although it only adds to the overall vibe. The drums sound simplistic and a bit crashing. A few vocals are quiet and hard to hear. Some songs seem to wander too much. But the songs work to create a cohesive sound throughout the whole album. There are moments of brilliance as well. Certain tracks like “Pool Swimmers,” contain elements that sound inspired by psychedelic noise pop. Honestly, the album feels like the trio is built around impromptu jams. Solos--fairly uncommon in primarily acoustic bands--run joyfully throughout the songs. There are sections which sound as if they are made up on the spot. Overall, the album is an intricate jam session that can be listened to again and again.
Days drastically improves on its predecessor. Reminiscent of early Beach House albums, it is an addictive album. Tremendously catchy, it sounds a bit like the first album only with better production value. Every part sounds tighter and cleaner. It is the kind of music that is both subtle enough to fall asleep to and upbeat enough to put on at a party. Noise pop elements found in the first album are even more pronounced. After two years and the success of the first album, Real Estate sounded even better. Yet still, they did not lose the feel of each individual band member adding to the overall quality of the album. When it came out, I devoted a good amount of time to listening through it.
Atlas picks up right where Days left off. Like the first two full-lengths, Atlas is ten tracks long, clocking in just under 40 minutes. Everything on this album sounds fuller and more complex in ways the previous two did not. Reverb on the opening track “Had to Hear” swells in ways unlike anything from their earlier work, signifying a supposed new direction. But then following tracks, “Past Lives,” the first single “Talking Backwards” (which hearkens back to “Municipality” from Days), and the instrumental “April’s Song” begin to sound much more like the Real Estate of old.
The upbeat music still has the same relaxed feel, even if it accompanies some of the band’s most ominous lyrics which lament the passing of time. It causes questioning of the album’s title: maybe it is representative of a road map in life? The guitars lope so comfortably throughout, however, that it is easy to miss the message some lyrics. The sounds work so well together that even the bleakest lyrics have a tinge of optimism. In fact, once started, the album flows so well that it is difficult to interrupt the album during one sitting. Like their first album, clean solos are found at unexpected, yet fitting times. “Talking Backwards” does exactly what a single should do: it is too enjoyable to not repeat at least once. The album closes with three songs that feel too short, because they are songs that you simply do not want to come to an end.
After spending just a few days with this album, it is difficult to say whether I enjoy Atlas more than Days or if it is just the newness of the album that makes it attractive. Keep in mind that I think Days still has lasting quality, and when it first came out, it was on constantly in my room. Repeatability is a good way to judge music. There is no question that Atlas is a technologically sounder album; now we will have to see how pervasive its sounds and themes remain in the years to come. But as for now, I am finding myself enjoying it immensely and continually putting it on.
As of yet, each Real Estate album has gotten distinctly better and better. The band may have grown more complex in five years, but they have not lost any of the relaxed easy listening that I fell in love with then. Judging by the consistency of their releases, I’m excited to see what the group from New Jersey puts out next.