Real Estate Stays in a Good Place with ‘Atlas’
John Darr | Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Real Estate is one of those bands that can be scary to review. Their music is so easy on the ears that one can be tempted to call them out for not being challenging. They’ve maintained a pretty uniform sound throughout the years — subtle drums that serve as a backbone to flowing guitar riffs and easygoing vocals. And yet despite this, the members of Real Estate are undeniably experts at what they do. Each track is gorgeously layered, bringing a plethora of melodies and riffs to the table every track. Though the band’s music is often calm and accessible, it’s never boring. Whenever a riff or jam section threatens to be repetitive, the Real Estate changes it up — the song structures are complex enough to keep the constant calm beauty afloat.
So is it damning to say that Real Estate’s new album, “Atlas,” is more of the same? Because it certainly is just that — more of the same. Layers of calm, subtly complex guitar riffs still have find themselves between quiet, driving drums and summer-morning vocals. The writing here is still fantastic — if you’re not sick of the Real Estate sound, then you’re not going to be sick of these Real Estate songs. In the end, though, Atlas is nothing new. So why should it deserve a trophy or a pat on the back? There are, thankfully, more than a couple reasons.
First of all, “Atlas” finds Real Estate continuing to refine its sound. In essence, it’s safe to say that the songs on “Atlas” actually take a step up from the bar the band set with their fantastic last album, “Days.” The band’s slowest songs, which strayed beyond calm into sleepy and even boring, have been left out here. The tempo alone makes “Atlas” the most engaging, memorable and re-playable record of Real Estate’s catalogue. All of these descriptions are further amplified by another trend in Real Estate’s music — catchier melodies. While “Days” and the self-titled debut had clear highlights, “Atlas” is an album of consistently standout tracks. Each song, with the exception of perhaps “The Bend,” boasts a set of appealing hooks. “Atlas” goes beyond the passive background music that Real estate usually makes, engaging the listener far more effectively and far more often.
Second of all, “Atlas” is a treasure trove of thought-provoking, relatable lyrics. Real estate has always been the rare band that pairs excellent music with excellent words, and their newest effort is no exception. Opener “Had to Hear” perfectly captures long distance love: “I had to hear you just to feel near you/I know it’s not true.” Follower “Past Lives” sums up nostalgic sadness in a similarly simple yet brilliantly effective line: “I cannot come back to this neighborhood without feeling my own age.” The themes of painful love continue throughout the duration of the album, exemplified in “Crimes”’ chorus: “I don’t wanna die lonely and uptight/stay with me.” More than any album in recent memory, “Atlas” manages to evoke acute emotions without resorting to drama or hyperbole.
Finally, very few bands are doing what Real Estate is doing right now. The indie rock scene has turned to danceable beats and away from prominent guitars in the last five years. Real Estate is one of the last groups that keeps instrumental performance, and the electric guitar, at the heart of its music. Guitar rock is something pretty rare these days, but Real Estate continues to make a very good case for it.
“Atlas” may not be new for Real Estate, but in the end, it doesn’t need to be. A brilliant third album in a discography of guitar and songwriting expertise, it’s another entry in the guitar rock canon. Though familiar, each track presents a new incarnation of the Real Estate sound. And given how good that sound is, it’s hard to pass “Atlas” up.