2 Green Aisles
3 It's Resl
4 Kinder Blumen
5 Out of Tune
7 Wonder Years
8 Three Blocks
9 Younger Than Yesterday
10 All The Same
For a mix of songs made at different times, Real Estate's self-titled 2009 debut was impressively consistent. Given how well the New Jersey band fused disparate moments, you had to figure they could reach even greater heights were they to craft their next set all at once. They did just over the last winter, and the result is indeed a step forward. Cleaner, sharper, and just plain stronger, Days is like a single idea divided into simple statements-- a suite of subtle variations on a theme.
Its coherence sounds remarkably effortless, as if stringing together catchy gems is as easy as, in the words of one song, "floating on an inner tube in the sun." Interestingly, Real Estate actually acknowledge this sense of ease. The opener is bluntly titled "Easy", and references to carefree simplicity abound. As singer/guitarist Martin Courtney puts it, "If it takes all summer long/ Just to write one simple song/ There's too much to focus on/ Clearly there is something wrong." But the band's celebration of the uncomplicated is less about how Days was written than about the beauty of life seen in retrospect, especially young life in small towns.
Like the stirring scenes of suburban Texas in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, these songs find meaning in daily mundanities-- in houses and gardens, phone lines and street lights, names carved in trees and leaves pressed by footsteps. "All those wasted miles/ All those aimless drives through green aisles," sings Courtney wistfully. "Our careless lifestyle, it was not so unwise." That sentiment was evident on the band's debut, but here they've honed it to its essence.
The music bears a simplicity to match. These aren't minimal songs by any means, but the layers of cycling guitar, rolling rhythm, and gentle echo are always understated, more about conveying feeling than showing off the band's considerable chops. There's also a smooth efficiency in these rich tunes. No note feels wasted, and nothing happens at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Much of this precision comes from guitarist Matt Mondanile, whose nimble playing adds color to each song's shape. It's most noticeable in the insistent "It's Real", but I'm even more taken with his sonic smoke rings in "Out of Tune", and how his shimmering guitar evokes sunrays mingling through branches and sparkling off pools.
That idyllic tone permeates Days, and in lesser hands could deprive it of tension or variety. But Real Estate have such a knack for classic-sounding melody that every song quickly engages on a musical gut level. It's a quality their music shares with the jangly hooks of early R.E.M., the breeziness of later Pavement, and the garage twang of the Fresh & Onlys. But their closest kin are New Jersey forefathers the Feelies. That group's undying ability to mine repeated chords and Zen phrases is matched best by the album's closer, "All the Same", a looping study of how night and day are merely sides of the same coin. Lasting over seven minutes, it might be Real Estate's first epic. But it's as subtle and unassuming as anything on Days-- more evidence from this band that great music doesn't have to sound hard to make, even if it is...www.pitchfork.com