With their sophomore album “Days,” the New Jersey quartet Real Estate proves that there’s more to the Jersey shore than bad television. Over the course of 10 tracks, the album succeeds in channeling classic surf-pop sounds while imbuing the intimacy of lo-fi hum with a more expansive psychedelic rock sensibility. Though the band stays true to the relaxed ambiance of their earlier work, they have undoubtedly developed a more refined sound than that of their eponymous debut LP, and they successfully add a more mature element of nostalgia for baked skin and windswept sand. The result is a lovely and cohesive album that straddles the reality of today and the dream-state of summer’s yesterday.
Within the first several tracks, it is clear that although the album has a higher production value, its sound is still based in the woozy guitar chords and hazy vocals that constituted the first album’s garage rock aesthetic. Album opener “Easy” is a signature Real Estate track, warm and hassle-free with melancholic lyrics placed against the backdrop of feel-good guitar strumming. It subtly transitions into one of the album’s most beautiful tracks, “Green Aisles,” in which lead singer Martin Courtney yearns for the days of youthful innocence and ignorant bliss: “All those wasted miles / All those aimless drives through green aisles / Our careless lifestyle / It was not so unwise.”
The ease with which one track coasts into the next is driven by the band’s consistent ability to layer and loop discernible guitar chords and melodies. Rather than inducing boredom, the repetition in instrumental track “Kinder Blumen” sways with comfort like a rocking hammock, and effectively conveys the album’s pervasive wistfulness. In under four minutes, any perception of the song’s beginning or end is lost in the music itself, and the production allows the recurring riffs to exemplify the sort of summer transience that makes the calendar days pass in a blink of an eye.
The soothing ebb and flow of “Days” is also evident in tracks such as “Younger than Yesterday” and “Three Blocks.” With Courtney slipping his “oohs” and “ohs” subtly into the supporting instrumentals, the former track quickly becomes a trance of heartwarming oscillations. On “Three Blocks,” he blends lyrics such as “Things won’t be like they were before” with the intimate susurration of mellowed guitars and soft drumming. Throughout the album, he uses his suggestively thin voice as more of an impressionistic element than a driving force.
Nevertheless, despite its nature as an atmospheric album awash with the haze of summer daydream, “Days” also marks the band’s move into catchier pop. “It’s Real” glides right through its two minutes and 48 seconds with surprisingly bright vocals and upbeat tempo—the jam has just enough clarity and splash to make it an excellent first single. Perfect windows-down driving music, it is both catchy on its own and structurally significant because it provides dynamic shift from the laid-back songs.
The lackadaisical quality of somnolent pop often has the danger of becoming lazy and emotionally stagnant, as demonstrated by the album’s few weak tracks, “Wonder Years” and “Out of Tune.” Falling victim to flat melodies and generic lyrics, both songs lack the charming element of surprise present in most of the songs’ chiming chords.
Nevertheless, even on the album’s longest and most repetitive track, “All the Same,” Real Estate manages to counteract their steady lightheartedness with enough sentimental punch to keep listeners engaged. Courtney’s voice fuses right into the track with “Oh when you came back from the sea / It’s true, you brought a melody,” in reference to the band’s own playful inspirations and musical goals. The vocals eventually fade as the instrumentals slow, the song growing more tranquil until a final pluck of guitar string is sent drifting off into the horizon. Even then though, the beauty of the song lingers as Real Estate shows that their music’s strength is in their ability to evoke the sensation of undirected, emotionally-charged remembrance.
—Staff writer Jennifer T. Soong can be reached at email@example.com.