Review Summary: Originality in similarity.
In a music scene where every artist's latest album can be a band's re-creation of the latest musical trend or internet phenomenon, there are outliers who go against the flow. One such band is Real Estate and they just finished recording their third LP entitled Atlas. To the casual listener it sounds much the same as their two previous albums-- even the songs on the album seem to blend together. Have they ever made more than one song? This is where the beauty and originality of Real Estate emerges from a maze of music. It makes you slow down to find the permutations. They have begun a career in the music scene, yanked about by the whims of culture, by making consistently similar music. Looking at the lyrical content of their music, this makes a lot of sense.
Where Arcade Fire made a name for themselves as dysfunctional rebels of the suburbs, Real Estate focuses on the seriality of the the suburbs as interpreted by the white male. Where Win Butler wanted to escape and wrestle with the suburbs, vocalist and lyricist of Real Estate Martin Courtney was wooed by them.
Contrary to the aforementioned casual listener, there have been significant developments since their album Days, released in 2011. During Days they were in-between drummers, and the addition of Jackson Pollis since then has added character to the percussion aspect of the album that was previously more functional than aesthetic. In addition, the band has also added keyboardist Matt Kallman (from the band Girls) to their lineup, and with that a little bit more texture. Atlas was recorded in Wilco's Chicago loft and the mix stands head and shoulders above either of their previous LPs. Finally, the lyrics of Atlas are more cohesive and less blindly optimistic than the other two records.
At the end of recording Days, Courtney got married. Atlas is about his yearning for, yet sense of displacement from, the suburbs, and his realized loss of control. He sings about the dissonance he has with revisiting the suburbs he grew up in. Weaving throughout the album is his wrestling with ideals of love and the friction of miscommunication. By the eighth song on the album he seems to have given up his pursuit of love and struggles with finding the right words to break it off. On the track following that Courtney realizes he has been pursuing an unrealistic ideal of love and is surprised to find his lover right next to him through all of it.
The tension in the melancholic guitar riffs, the gradual lyrical realization of introspective self-centeredness, and the outlook of a bright future are combined to make a brilliant synergy. Between bouncy and driving basslines and languid guitar, Atlas is a smooth listen through pleasant troughs and crest. It's a grower, not a one time listen. Real Estate is stepping into their band authenticity. They're not the band that you can't wait to see what they do next, but are becoming a much needed anchor to a volatile music scene.