Monday, November 23, 2009

Real Estate: Real Estate

spend your Thanksgiving visiting

Patience is a virtue, and listeners will likely need plenty of it throughout Real Estate's self-titled full-length. It's not that the album is overly long; at just 10 songs and right around 40 minutes, it's not particularly over-indulgent or tediously meandering. It's not that the album is awful or directionless either: clearly the New Jersey band knew what type of sound they were going for throughout the record. Nearly every song consists of opening and closing instrumental sections of varying lengths, fluid guitar lines from Matt Mondanile and the echoed and mostly buried vocals of Martin Courtney.

Only one small problem: the band repeats that formula for the entire album with the type of narrow-minded determination usually reserved for zealots and psychopaths. Individual songs mostly work by themselves, but when evaluated in an album context, this release quickly becomes monotonous and repetitive. To be sure, Real Estate has its moments - "Black Lake" is the album's standout track, its languid pace and distant vocals undeniably evocative and mysterious - but mostly the album crumbles under the weight of its own predictability. The album's charm doesn't last for long: "Fake Blues," "Green River," "Let's Rock the Beach" and "Suburban Beverage" are all built from a remarkably similar template, as each begins with an instrumental lead-in before giving way to various guitar/bass/drum patterns and Courtney's frequently hazy vocals.

Most of the tracks on Real Estate unfold gradually, with no peaks or valleys or moments of tension or resolution. Quite simply its parts are greater than the whole; on their own, songs like "Snow Days" and "Suburban Dogs" offer carefully crafted arrangements and ghostly vocals that sometimes sound like they were recorded underwater. That these songs offer various moods, tones and textures is undeniable. Yet there is just not enough variation to complement these songs' ethereal and nostalgic qualities, and eventually the album collectively becomes fairly ponderous and plodding. Courtney's vocals, buried in the mix to varying degrees, are essentially treated as another instrument, a trick that likewise works for a while before feeling a bit played out.

Of course, we're living in a digital music age where a solid song or two can be isolated from an album and added to a listener's iPod playlist, with those songs sounding all the better for it. Still, Real Estate likely isn't meant to be a collection of singles. There's a logic and consistency to its songs - not to mention plenty of references to beaches, water, lakes, seasons and suburbia - that musically and thematically link its tracks. Yet there are landmines with such a defined scope, and if you're a band that locks into a specific formula, the arrangements and vocals sure as hell better have enough wrinkles to remain interesting and unconventional. All too often such variations are missing from Real Estate, the result being an album whose deliberate pace and mostly uniform sound eventually overstay their welcome.


Anonymous said...

You did not listen to the album. The OPENER IS not Altantic City.

Listen before the critic.

Eric said...

indeed you are correct; this is my mistake.

I will however assure you that I listened to the album prior to reviwing it.