STAFF PICK: In Mind by Real Estate
You might have noticed that I do not provide ratings alongside my reviews. I speak more in depth on my reasoning in my preface, but I find it applicable here in a different manner: I’ve always found Real Estate uniquely difficult to pin down. That is, they have a certain charm about them. I began my experience with them with 2014’s Atlas. It wasn’t a sudden infatuation, and I didn’t get the feeling that it was an unequivocally brilliant and unique record. It was just always there, and it always felt right.
I distinctly remember the mundanity of my summer job at the golf course. Atlas was the musical milieu of my monotonous mornings; a gentle filter with which I enjoyed the beauty of the rising sun. Each morning, I sauntered absentmindedly through my tasks, spilling my Styrofoam cup of burnt Folgers and burning my fingers on stale Marlboros. Moments of frustration would frequently arise, then the next song would start.
‘The Bend,’ I love this one… What was I worried about?
The subtle highs of the bass melody, the restrained grace of the jazzy drums, and the atmospheric play of the jangly guitars constructed a canvas for Martin Courtney’s endearingly gentle vocals. There was something lullabic about Real Estate’s music that my half-asleep mind couldn’t quite grasp. A summer’s worth of mornings played out like this, and it was the only context in which I’d listened to Atlas.
As a listener, I often reassure myself that some albums will get more attention than others. To make a chore of listening is to strip the music of its enchantment, its essence. It wasn’t until ‘The Bend’ came on my shuffle during a rainy day that I consciously came to appreciate Real Estate. I observed that the music was not an externality, nor was it an encapsulation of the surrounding nature. Instead, it was the background; it was just there, and it felt right. It was then that I discovered the versatility of the record and how it could accentuate different situations in nature and mood.
This background, however, is one that can easily become the foreground. It is best described as a delicate, sparse, and detailed mural. In a way, it holds this in common with ambient music. Eno’s description of ambient music as ‘wallpaper music’ is not to suggest that it must only played in the background, but rather that it provides a hospitable atmosphere there; in bringing it to the foreground, one discerns that it is just as praiseworthy, if not more.
That said, if you were similarly endeared to Atlas, you will most certainly appreciate In Mind. More of the same abounds, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing. It is distinct from Atlas, but it follows their tested ‘formula,’ so to speak. Their formulaic approach is not necessarily a bad thing, and it leaves quite a bit of room for experimentation on this record more than ever. To put it plainly, this is still an example of their perfection of suburban indie music.
Indeed, restrained experimentation permeates this record. There is a marked increase in their use of delay (echo), phasers, and the occasional subtle drum machine. ‘Darling’ is a primer for this newfound experimentation, as the beginning rings with the harmony of a bright synthesizer. Sometimes, these experimentations seem a bit out of place, as in the song ‘Two Arrows,’ in which the chorus is coated with a lacquer of delayed vocal distortion reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ ‘All I Wanna Do.’ Still present are the bass melodies, jangly guitars, cymbal-heavy jazz drum fills, and soft-spoken vocals, but it seems less that the basis of many of these songs is within a simple guitar riff. In this way, they have become more proficient in creating more complex melodies with several interplaying components.
The increase in experimentation, however, brings to the forefront a ubiquitous facet of Real Estate’s music thus far: at times, it feels apparent their music is simply a vessel for their poetry. It seems that this record does not quite stand up to the cohesive atmosphere that Atlas created, but this does not mean that it is devoid of the same charm. One is able to tap into the imaginative lyrics of this record from the beginning to the end, although it seems that there are fewer immediately accessible, “quotable” lyrics, such as those of ‘Talking Backwards.’
You’ll notice that it’s been quite some time since this album’s release. As I said, my appreciation for Real Estate was not a sudden infatuation. It was just always there, and it always felt right. This sentiment rings true of In Mind, and its remarkable versatility remains very much intact. On the whole, In Mind presents a refreshing change in pace that finds a balance between indulgence and restraint. Slow down a bit, and I promise you'll enjoy it.
Real Estate performs Monday, April 10th at recordBar.
Stream In Mind here: