When I lived in Baltimore, I turned frequently to the sun-speckled sounds of Real Estate’s first two albums; the seafaring “Beach Comber” of their 2009 self-titled debut remained an ironic soundtrack to academic numbness, while 2011’s “Days” sang simple pleasures into the end of collegiate vexation. I sought comfort in the band and their bourgeoning appearance in the indie-rock scene, in the successes of their tri-state intellect and their ability to make music remarkably subtle and blooming in its deliberate simplicity. Seemingly effortlessly, Real Estate occupied that warm and cozy space projected by a mind far from its surroundings, humming with sweet vibrations in a territory unscathed by reality, grounded in the pretend. It was music for the moment; the soft strumming of “Green Aisles” brought fresh air to the kinds of days passed on benches, under trees, with strict contentment focused above at weaving streams of sunlight.
On March 4, Real Estate released their latest album, “Atlas.” Shrugging off the care-free vibes that had become such a definitive mark of the band’s sound, the collection of tracks unveil a newfound maturity, and with that, the earnest neuroses that complement the uncertainty of transition. The chiming audio aesthetics are still present in the album’s ten tracks, but it is joined by the complexity of heavy arrangement.
The first few notes of the opening song “Had to Hear” harken to more melancholy than they do contentment, arranging for an album that reads as an attempt at reconciling the concrete past with a hazy future. “I cannot come back to this neighborhood without feeling my own age,” Martin Courtney sings on “Past Lives.” With remarkable tightness, Real Estate presents the fence we put between those haunting, lingering locations that somehow still exist side by side with our new, uncharted realities. Sometimes, it’s easier to empty out the contents of these places, shaking them into dust specks on a crumpled map, than it is to accept them as alive and bubbling, with the ghosts of a parallel life hanging around. “I stare at the hands on the clock/I’m still waiting for them to stop/The earliest light is just shining in/And I’ve no idea where the days been,” Courtney sings on “Navigator.” This is the dense subject around which “Atlas” is formed; it is running rings in our imaginative resurrection of the past, seeking closure in situations whose ends are long gone from our grasp, frayed and unraveled. It’s the way the world looks when suddenly, the surfacing of watery eyes skew our surroundings, whispering nostalgia and blurring lines, with peaceful acceptance of life’s divergent pathways.
Atlas is a poised and vulnerable exposition of change. With masterful harmonies and composition, Real Estate showcases the universal crux of a staggering destiny.