Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Daniel emphasises Real Estates' nostalgia


Release date: 23 February 2024
Real Estate Daniel cover
21 February 2024, 08:30 Written by Marc Corrales

Once an indie darling for their mastery over the popular surf rock style, Real Estate has seemingly entered the 2020s with no end-of-decade accolades.

The New Jersey band’s Lennon-esque vocal delivery from Martin Courtney and signature jangly riffs are remembered only from 2011’s Days and 2014’s Atlas. For all the hype they received as the potential leader for the indie surf genre in the early years of the 2010s, such claim is short-lived. Not only was the genre itself just a trend, more competition has arisen to knock Real Estate off their recognisability. Add in a few dramas surrounding the kicking of their guitarist Matt Mondanile in 2016-2017 and it’s no wonder why some listeners have fallen out of love with what was once one of the most exciting newcomers in indie rock.

In a sense, Daniel is the record that should aim to try and recuperate some interest back into Real Estate. Following the relative failures of The Main Thing in 2020, a bit of fixing needs to be done. On their Bandcamp page, the album’s theme alludes to “the earned perspective of adulthood” as they sought to reconnect with the relative innocence of their past albums. With help from Kacey Musgraves’s top producer Daniel Tashian, Real Estate aims to reclaim the subtle touch that made them darlings. After all, what better way to lure in the listener’s attention than to nail the mixing down and make the whole project more accessible to the ears?

In the heart of Daniel lies the emphasis of nostalgia. On the lead single “Water Underground”, Courtney muses of his past in living in the local commute of Ridgewood with metaphors of water to help with his creativity. While the dreamy psychedelic reverbs help to compliment the band in its typical ways, the chorus can come off as being a bit annoying. “Haunted House”, with a more folksy tune, sees the rumination on returning back to a “familiar place” to pass the time with some nice layering of the vocals for harmonic potency. With a handful of tracks, it was already made apparent why Tashian was asked to help produce the album; much of the songs feel more polished even if they might not be perfect.

The odes to retro-esque artistry, however admirable or identity-forming it is, serves as a major problem to Real Estate’s peaks. It’s easy for any remotely successful band both in popularity and critical attention to be compared with the Beatles for whatever reason. However, Courtney’s singing and the band’s occasional dive into folk-pop gives an impression of being imitators rather than influencers. “Interior” not only feels like a rough draft to a John Lennon song, but the vocal harmonies in the second half are relatively dispassionate compared to “Hey Jude”. “Market Street” is among the most meandering for its little changes in their song structures and dull lyricism that feels like a botched-up reconciliation between hippie fantasy and corporate promotion.

One of the more frustrating parts of the album lies in how often Real Estate flirts with the prospect of upgrading their songwriting. Some of their more gorgeous tracks contain some form of orchestral impression. This can come in numerous forms like a nice mix of rattle and keyboard backed by a gliding note like in “Victoria”, the swooning strings in “Airdrop”, or a summery cello to accompany the ringing notes and drums in “Somebody New”. Perhaps most notably, “You Are Here” mixes the delicacy that defines the band’s jangly indie surf with relatively lengthy instrumental passages that is reminiscent of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”. With its psychedelic tessellations of lower-end guitar notes and a wave-like solo in the end, it manages to lure you in with the vision of being in love.

As a result, Daniel shows potential for Real Estate to take their music to the next level and in a way, that’s both its biggest plus and greatest minus. Never mind the shiny optimism that was brimming in “Freeze Brain” and “Flowers”, the album ironically shows the fear of going beyond the ordinary and the routine with what the band sought to create. Courtney might have preferred to stick with what he and his colleagues have already had, but there’s clearly a lot of thought given to the biggest highlights. If he dares to aspire more, to push beyond his boundaries and cement his potential for greatness, then it would not hurt to branch off with the structure and instrumentation. Hopefully, even if this is only just above average in its quality, Daniel might mark the beginning of Real Estate’s most adventurous phase.

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