New Jersey’s Real Estate have been reliable harbingers of breezy, jangly indie rock for a decade now. Despite the simplicity in the sound of their songs, there’s a depth in the longing they sing about. Songs about longing for those backyard parties, garage band shows, and haunting suburban streets long past curfew. In the decade since Real Estate’s debut album the band has gone from being those college slackers going to keg parties to grown men with kids of their own, reminiscing about those times(or maybe even thankful they made it out intact.)
Each of Real Estate’s albums showed a continual progression of that easy guitar sound. The debut(2009) took its time weaving and waving thru extended Yo La Tengo-inspired jams, while Days(2011) felt like guys in their mid-twenties staring post-college life square down. Day jobs, relationships, morning traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, and random drug tests at the office. Atlas(2014) was coming to terms with adulthood, while looking at the “good old days” with objective eyes. 2017s In Mind was the only Real Estate that felt like it was made in a holding pattern, more than likely due to it being the first album made without longtime guitarist Matt Mondanile.
Real Estate have returned with their fifth record, the back-to-basics The Main Thing. There’s an easiness here that was lacking on In Mind. It feels like a welcome reprieve from the outside world; like having coffee with an old friend that always knew how to make you feel better when life had gotten you down. The Main Thing feels like the proper follow-up to a masterpiece like Atlas.
Right out of the gate we’re reminded why Real Estate was so easy to fall for a decade ago. “Friday” opens quietly with lush synth strings, catchy bass, and seventies-style guitar like a lost Feelies track. It’s the classic formula we missed last time around. Singer/guitarist Martin Courtney has one of those voices that just blends beautifully with the music Real Estate create. It’s not overwhelming, but it stands out on its own. Melodic, gentle, and just the right amount of vulnerability. Lead single “Paper Cup” is an exquisitely-produced piece of indie pop, reminiscent of Wild Nothing. It’s the perfect car jam along some highway indifferent to where you’re going. One of my favorite tracks here is the sublime “Falling Down”. There’s a classic 70s vibe in the guitar that puts me in mind of Gerry Rafferty, but with an East Coast alternative twist. Courtney’s vocals and the ghostly backing vocals coalesce together beautifully.
There’s really not a wrong turn here. The weakest track is “Gone”, which despite its heavy-but-vague lyrics, seems to wallow in weird, mundane electronic percussion and Courtney’s vocals being mixed under the music rather than with or above it. It’s a grey track stuck in an album of colorful sonics. Fear not, title track “The Main Thing” makes up for it and “Silent World” makes much better use of electronic percussion as the band floats along on a breezy summer track, complete with tasteful slide guitar. The album even ends on an upbeat instrumental interlude, the kind of interlude we used to hear back in the beginning days of the band. Perfect way to end the album.
The Main Thing is an album that can be played over and over and you never get tired of it. Real Estate have found their groove once again. The New Jersey sons have grown up into respectable men, and this album proves it.
8.2 out of 10