The Washington Post

Album review: Real Estate, “Days”

Real Estate’s second album establishes the band as one of indie rock’s finest. (Photo by Shawn Brackbill)

Real Estate knows this. The young New Jersey band makes driving music, perfect for coasting through suburban quilts of green and gray — or imaginary drives through your own gray matter.

Of the 10 songs that make up the band’s lovely sophomore album, “Days,” none invites more steering-wheel abuse than “It’s Real.” The song’s keen tap-tap-tap-tap sounds like it was composed in the driver’s seat of a ’97 Toyota Corolla.

But when Martin Courtney confesses that he doesn’t “know who’s behind the wheel,” he’s not singing about his morning carpool. He’s singing about the mystery of emotions and how they can feel more acute when you’re living in the Garden State’s suburban inertia.

Real Estate doesn’t share Bruce Springsteen’s zeal or Zip code, but few contemporary rock albums feel as American as “Days.” This music comes from a place where Exxon station canopies glow like beacons in the boredom. The band reinforces that sense of bittersweet stasis with cyclical riffs that resemble R.E.M. (or the Clean, or Built to Spill, or even Fleetwood Mac), walking lazy laps around the track behind the high school. There are some jangled chords, some bright guitar leads and a rhythm section that operates somewhere between shy and proud.

It’s Courtney’s singing that pushes these songs to the deep end of the pool. His lyrics clot into Polaroid focus on “Green Aisles” — “The phone lines, the street lights led me to you,” he sings. “And if you just sit tight, I’ll be there soon.” En route, he soaks up the present and braces for the future: “The houses were humming all through the night/And winter was coming, but that was alright.”

That last line isn’t an expression of slacker resignation. It’s a wistful declaration of acceptance. And there’s so much hidden sadness to accept in these breezy tunes. It only sinks in — slowly, deceptively, intravenously — after repeated listens.

And that’s what separates Real Estate from the hordes of limp, cute, insipid, smug bands that pervade indie rock in 2011. Unlike Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” a vanilla-rock eruption that took home the Grammy for album of the year back in February, “Days” is a far more graceful bundle of songs, with Real Estate stitching suburban anxiety into its music so elegantly you can’t see the needlework.

Just remember to give it time. After one listen, these tunes will seem pleasant enough. After 20, they’ll have dropped you off in a rare and reflective space, miles beyond the Jersey Turnpike. You’ll wonder how you ever got there — and if you ever want to go back.

Recommended Tracks: “Younger Than Yesterday,” “Green Aisles,” “Out of Tune,” “It’s Real”

Chris Richards is The Washington Post's pop music critic. He has recently written about the genius of Young Thug, the endurance of go-go music, and the pleasure of listening to loud sounds in the dark.


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