Real Estate // Atlas
by Ben Goldberg on March 2, 2014
Posted in: Album Review
It’s hard to quantify just how eager I was for Atlas. Real Estate’s self-titled debut was the soundtrack to the winter of my freshman year. In just their first release, they already seemed to encapsulate that jangly “beach pop” sound that’s become a recent obsession in indie music. Their follow-up, Days, landed in 2011 to pretty much universal praise. With increased production value and a cleaner, tighter sound, Real Estate got surf-rock down to perfection. I can (and still do) listen to Days on repeat. But when Real Estate announced their third album, I was literally giddy. It was exactly the kind of relief we needed in the middle of one of our coldest winters.
When “Talking Backwards” appeared online back in January, things seemed to bode well. “Talking Backwards” shows Real Estate back in full-force: a simple guitar-driven song, anchored by an ambling lead riff and accompanied by too many layers to count. “Crime” – the second single off the album – maintained all the hype for Atlas. “Crime” has Real Estate singing in more of a minor key, repeating in the chorus, “I don’t wanna die / Lonely and uptight.” It’s dark, poignant, and unmistakably Real Estate. They’ve gotten older, but at least they haven’t lost their chops.
Unfortunately, these two singles might be the best that Atlas has to offer. Their melodies are by far the most distinct, while the rest of the album tends to fade into the background. The first track “Had To Hear” starts out strong. With an appropriately slow and almost hesitant beginning, it sets the stage for a darker album than the more shimmering Days. Once the song picks up, it has all members of the band strumming in perfect sync. And yes, at this point, I was still excited about the album. “Primitive” marks another standout track: beautiful harmonies and that signature lead guitar riff that carries the song into its fade-out ending. But aside from the singles, nearly every other track is either boring or flat-out forgettable. They’re not bad; in fact, they’re quite listenable. They serve as nice interludes, precursors or addenda to the rare tracks that could stand alone. By themselves, however, most songs off the album are just like one extended fade-out without the energy or emotive force of earlier Real Estate recordings. Sometimes that works (e.g. the instrumental fourth track “April’s Song”), but mostly it’s tedious. Atlas once again demonstrates Real Estate’s characteristically lazy and effortless sound; while that once brought them to the spotlight, now it feels uninspired and overdone.
With 10 tracks in just 38 minutes, Atlas falls a little short. While somewhat compelling, the theme of physical and emotional longing/searching (hence “Atlas”) is unremarkable. Isn’t that what all pop music is about anyways? Fans of Real Estate shouldn’t be completely discouraged – there are some gems here. But overall, Atlas shows no progress as a band nor any chance at having a lasting impact on music today. Real Estate’s already accomplished that with their earlier releases; any newcomers to Real Estate should let those be their introduction to this band.
Atlas will be out March 4th via Domino.
Best Tracks: 1, 3, 6, 7
RIYL: Ducktails, Beach Fossils, DIIV, Youth Lagoon