Real Estate – Days (Domino)
By Scott Creney
Days is pretty. It’s easy on the ears, well-manicured, and impeccably tasteful. If you’re a person who places value on those things, this may well be your favorite album of 2011. Like a heavily-sedated Shins, Real Estate is here to help you swing in your hammock and watch the leaves blow.
The word ‘content’ springs to mind, pronounced as an adjective, with the first syllable softened. There is very little hard, noun-like con-tent on Days (named after their favorite Kinks song? or the first half of their favorite American motel chain? )
It’s wistful as fuck, with the rose-tinted nostalgia of the recently graduated. It reminds me a little of Felt, if Lawrence had been in love with grapefruit juice instead of heroin.
There’s an easy-peasy breeziness to the music that isn’t a million miles away from The Go-Betweens, but Real Estate doesn’t even come close to that band’s lyricism, never once approaches a couplet like “When the rain hits the roof/With the sound of a finished kiss/Like a lip lifted from a lip”. There is nothing in Real Estate’s lyrical arsenal to leave you breathless, to stop you gasping in your tracks.
It would be unfair to say Real Estate is boring, but it’s OK to call them safe. You get the feeling they have no idea that art can be biting and cynical like Burroughs or Ballard, that they have no use for the extreme passions of Dostoevsky, or the gorgeous despair of Gass — let alone the absurd pathos of Pynchon, the lusty fragments of Cortazar, the brutal reimaginings of Acker. Hell, even Stephen King writes incessantly about the cruelty of men.
King is capable of making your skin crawl; Real Estate are content to acknowledge that skin is something that is nice to touch when it belongs to an attractive female.
On ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ the singer sounds like — I’m not kidding — Tim Burgess on the first Charlatans album. What the fuck is that about? On ‘Out of Tune’ he sounds exactly like the dude from The Shins, which makes a lot more sense.
In a literary sense, Real Estate are closer to early John Cheever, or Frank O’Hara. Even as they echo Updike’s placid, docile sort of discomfort, they lack the audacity and grace to make it compelling. In the end, we’re left with a group of songs as polite, gentle and vaguely dissatisfied as the affluent suburb (Money magazine named Ridgewood, NJ the 26th best place to live in 2011) that spawned them. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Real Estate makes music because they like to make music. Real Estate songs are the sound of someone wondering out loud to themselves without any sense of desperation.
It’s a summery music that evokes the kind of summer where no one has to work a summer job. The living is easy — except for that nagging voice in the back of your head that says it can’t be like this forever, at some point you’ll have to grow up. Fortunately for Real Estate, Days just debuted at #52 on the US chart. Being on Domino Records means never having to say you’re worried. Too bad, a little failure might have agitated these guys into doing something impossible to ignore.
But pretty isn’t bad. Pretty doesn’t suck. Real Estate’s album is pretty, make of that what you will.