Real Estate Real Estate

[Woodsist; 2009]

Styles: sun-drenched pop, beach comber jangle
Others: Girls, The Feelies, Ducktails

"Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel alright," Real Estate front man Martin Courtney sings on “Suburban Beverage,” the most melancholy cut from the band’s self-titled debut album. It’s the song’s only lyric, a subtle, repeated refrain that despite its meager ingredients manages to sum up nearly everything lovable about the band: their working-class Jersey beach-brah roots, their surfer-dude nonchalance, their street-level mysticism. As unlikely as it may seem, here at the tail end of 2009, playing the kind of easy-going pop that Real Estate do somehow seems revelatory; holy moly, here’s a Woodsist band that’s focused as much on crafting songs as they are on growing beards (and there is at least one mangy beard at work here), obscuring their recordings with left-field noise trappings, and digging up cool-looking vintage photos for the album cover.

Opening track “Beach Comber” is the kind of song that practically begs for some savvy licensing asshole to snatch up for a commercial, or prime placement in a teen soap, propelling the band to the heights of indie-stardom. That may read like an insult, but it's far from it. Propelled by guitarist Matthew Mondanile’s exceedingly jangly fretwork, bassist Alex Bleeker’s bouncing undercurrent, and Etienne Duguay’s shuffling, spaghetti-armed beat, Courtney’s lyrics about watches in the sand and calling out of work take on a sly, existential meaning. It’s gloriously unassuming; nothing about the song feels like it's trying too hard, from the “ahh-ahh-ahhs” to the stuttering snare.

The rest of the record follows suit. “Pool Swimmers” dances by with a vaguely Tropicalia vibe, suggesting something like Vampire Weekend without their ivy league shorts wedgied up underneath their skinny jeans. “Atlantic City” showcases the group’s instrumental chops; it’s a testament to the band’s firm grasp of melody that a track that could easily be the most dispensable ends up being one of the record’s most enjoyable moments, the tussled tremolo arms painting a golden sunset over a beachside amusement park.

The constant (and seemingly Woodsist in-joke regulatory) thematic references to beaches and bodies of water would be annoying if they didn’t seem so apt. Tracks like “Fake Blues” mine the now ubiquitous Brian Wilson-isms that have come to define lo-fi pop in the wake of Animal Collective/Panda Bear, but it comes across as sincere, recalling not just the obvious melodic comparisons, but the uncanny way the best Beach Boys songs managed to sound carefree and devastated at the same time. "I’ve got to find a reason to write this song," Courtney sings, underneath his safe veil of reverb and cheap microphone haze.

Real Estate might not be the best classicist-leaning pop record of the year (that dubious honor goes to the more stylistically varied Album, by Girls), but it certainly is the most confident, the most assured, and the most unassuming. And so what if the group missed the boat by releasing the record too late in the year to soundtrack everyone’s lazy backyard barbecues and skinny dip sessions. The jams here suggest real staying power. This is the sort of record that improves with age. It will sound even better next summer, the summer after that, and five years from now, when no one remembers or cares what label the group was signed to, but only the pitch-perfect pop they put down on tape.

1. Beach Comber
2. Pool Swimmers
3. Suburban Dogs
4. Black Lake
5. Atlantic City
6. Fake Blues
7. Green River
8. Suburban Beverage
9. Lets Rock the Beach
10. Snow Days

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