by Preston Radtke
On their fourth full-length studio release, Real Estate continues to perfect their much-defined art and aesthetic despite noteworthy changes. The New Jersey-based dream pop outfit has wrought a consistent, yet unrevolutionary sound on their previous three albums. Real Estate molded the sounds and moods of early 2010’s Beach House, with the structural motifs of the Feelies and the instrumentals of (gasp) the Grateful Dead. This record, however, had the possibility to change and redefine Real Estate’s sound in many directions. Lead guitarist, and seminal “mood guru” Matt Mondanile, left the band in 2016 at the beginning of the writing for “In Mind.” Former collaborator and band friend Julian Lynch was rather hastily brought into the fold and dropped right in the middle of the writing process. On “In Mind” though, it’s apparent that Lynch’s guitar work, while not band-altering or innovative, shares many of the same characteristics with his predecessor, thus allowing Real Estate to maintain their sound. The album as a whole focuses less on lyrics and explicit meaning and more on intrinsic reflection and instrumental mood setting.
Guitar (an entire section just for a guitar!)
Contrasting the lyric-driven experience that was 2014’s “Atlas,” “In Mind’s” lead contributor was Julian Lynch, the somewhat new lead guitarist. Many previous Real Estate songs attempt to create a mood or feeling primarily through melodic drum sections or concise yet punctuated vocals. On this album however, the mood ran through Julian Lynch. Songs such as “After the Moon” and “Serve the Song” find Lynch’s guitar section as a catalyst for the song’s aesthetic. Both songs are very mellow and dreamy, in a guitar-based Beach House sort of way, yet it’s Lynch’s steady and efficient guitar playing that truly drives home the meaning and sense of the song. Other pieces, like the surprisingly radio-ready “Holding Pattern”, find Real Estate experimenting with traditional drum and lyrical constructs, only to be brought back to normalcy with a drawn-out mood altering guitar solo at the bridge. Lynch’s work on this album is so dominant and auspicious that Martin Courtney’s vocals operate more as a backing instrument, not the normal leading role that vocals usually fill.
Production: A Topographical Experience
“In Mind” is a slight study in geography concerning production. Close listening will reveal that Real Estate deviated from normal recording and overall band layout for this record. Traditionally, a studio or live band will feature the singer up front, the furthest from the drums/closest to the audience; behind him/her the guitarists usually stand to either side of the vocalist; off to the side at about the same level as the guitarists are any keyboardists or string players; the drummer is the furthest back, usually the most secluded and distant band member. The seclusion of the drummer allows for more contributive and backing sections that do not provide seminal parts to the experience. On this record though, Real Estate positioned the drummer either at the same level of the guitarists or off to the side, between the vocalist and guitarists. The resulting sound is a much louder and relevant drum section that somewhat overshadows Courtney’s vocals. Furthermore, the positioning of the drums allows for a parallel interplay between Lynch’s lead guitar and Alex Bleeker’s bass guitar. The sound that’s created by the parallelism of the guitars and drums annex Courtney’s vocals and make it a part of them. Again, instead of setting the mood vocally, Courtney’s contribution operates as a collaborative instrumental that shapes the entire mood of the song.
Innovation: Maybe They’ll Have Change In Mind Next Time
Real Estate has always been described as a “safe band.” Never dabbling in any taboo or racey subject matter, their music has been a cultural oasis for listeners who grow weary of concept and politically-infused records. Unfortunately, the band should progress on their fourth release. Real Estate needs to take a stand or occupy a more controversial emotional space in order to connect with the listener and remain relevant. On the other hand, Real Estate may be stagnating to remain different. The year 2017 has been described as “the year of the protest album” by Pitchfork. The current political and social landscape has wrought concept albums from artists as wide-ranging as Pissed Jeans to Girlpool. Listeners today expect, and at times demand, a social commentary on their band’s records. But Real Estate doesn’t do that; they attempt to drag the listeners back to a simpler time before “fake news”, WikiLeaks, and gender-neutral bathroom legislation. The problem is, “In Mind” isn’t so different from their previous three albums. They almost sound old and out-of-touch instead of classic and dependable. If Real Estate wanted to remain relevant while steering clear of controversial content, then they should have diversified their sound just slightly enough so that fans wouldn’t get frustrated and label them as “boring.”
Also in the In Mind Family:
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
Mac DeMarco: Salad Days
Atlas Sound: Logos
All images from Jambase
Lynch’s guitar work was the Lamborghini in a suburban parking lot full of Kias on this record. His actual playing wasn’t anything Santana or Tom Morello would be impressed by, but his melodic structure and strategic tuning truly carried this record. 8.8
More of a layout analysis, the production on this record was an innovative breakthrough for a band that wallows in routine. The simple relocation of instrumentation allowed for one of the only instances in shift-of-sound and mood on the record. 8
Real Estate’s noncommittal thematics are truly the most frustrating and damaging of all. Many critics have bemoaned Real Estate’s lack-of-stance on many social issues. They have a rare opportunity as one of the more popular indie music projects to move the needle and get conversations started with their music. But they don’t; they continue to remain stuck in the same Midwestern way that they always have. 4
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.