The Daily Northwestern

From ‘Days’ to dusk, Real Estate’s new album ‘Atlas’ delivers

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Scott Ostrin, Columnist

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When Real Estate released “Talking Backwards” on its YouTube channel early in the year, I was underwhelmed, as I’m sure most fans were. Almost three years have passed since “Days,”  Real Estate’s excellent sophomore album, and “Talking Backwards” was not the long-awaited return we were expecting. The song is Real Estate condensed into a congratulatory capsule without any of the drive of previous efforts. Instead, the single was content to lie down on an overly mellow beat with saccharine lyrics playing speaker to Real Estate’s usual mellow waves of heartbreak and relationship ambiguity.

That was me circa January: disappointed and underwhelmed. I should know better than to judge a 40-minute LP based on a single song, however, and the band’s new album “Atlas” does not disappoint. I should also know better to never doubt Real Estate, a band whose 2011 LP “Days” remains one of my absolute favorites ever since I discovered it in late 2013. Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile’s original project, Ducktails, has also released beautifully haunting LPs, which echo the same sound and feel of its partner in longer, sparser instrumentals.

Real Estate’s jangly, beach ocean rock returns in full swing on “Atlas,” a name befitting the album’s themes of loneliness and irreconcilable heartache. “The sky isn’t the only thing that changes,” sings frontman Martin Courtney, and neither are the aching romances of this LP. No map is needed to understand the pain and melancholia as Mondanile’s beautiful guitar and Alex Bleeker’s bass, only slightly playful, guides us through this latest struggle.

But if 2011’s LP was named “Days,” then perhaps 2014’s should be named “Dusks.” The atmosphere of a dark night by the beach, contemplative of the past and the what-ifs of the not-yet-present, are a fitting contrast to the earlier album’s relentless drive to push against the confusion.

“April’s Song,” much like “Days” fourth track “Kinder Blumen,” is also an instrumental track, on which the echoes of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” are intimated. On “The Bend,” Real Estate pushes past that old instinct to break away, to soar; instead, this is happening now. It happened then too, and right now, it’s real. This album, just as Courtney sings on “Navigator,” is about waiting for the moment to stop, only to see that it passed you by while your head was still spinning.

And despite its demure attitude, the album is still absolutely fun to listen to. Those luau guitar lines are impossibly cheery, even on a song like the second single “Crime.” “Tossing and turning and wanting to die,” Courtney laments another failed communication on this track. But even when Courtney doesn’t insist that what he felt was real (2011’s “It’s Real”) or ride into a seven-minute sunset wave (2011’s “All the Same”), they still manage to keep that beautifully, sometimes naively optimistic sound. It keeps the songs afloat among admittedly same subject matter and a deliberately restrained emotional range.

The stars are out on this LP, as Real Estate takes us down to the shore to reminisce about easier, carefree times. It may be cold on the lakeshore right now, but there’s a warm, inviting breeze blowing through “Atlas” today.