posted 2012-03-07 20:20:29

Real Estate’s Real Estate

Album That Changed My Life

Wen Hao Wang, Staff Writer

Real Estate's album "Real Estate". Photo courtesy of
It is those last few days of summer. Days where you drink the last cold beer to cool down, toss the last line at the lake, and walk across the last blade of grass that’ll tickle your toes. It is those wistful days of innocent, carefree living, and simple times with no crummy recession, no complicated tax filings, and no boring cubicles. It is also a time when you ate your mother’s inimitable home cooking, and all your friends lived on the same block and took freewheeling drives to nowhere in particular.

This nostalgia and sense of yearning defines the indie, lo-fi surf pop of Real Estate. From Ridgewood, New Jersey, the band of twenty-somethings were fresh out of college when they recorded their album, and this shows. Their songs express a bittersweet longing for suburbia, summer, and days of old. It is the typical early- adulthood attitude of wanting to separate from the past while holding on to home, but most of all never wanting a fleeting summer to end.

The first time I heard Real Estate was at the end of an episode of How I Met Your Mother—likely the first time their music was exposed on such a popular platform. The song “Beach Comber” played behind somber scenes of characters coming to terms with their lost, unforgotten dreams. As the guitar and bass whine away and the drums tread with restraint, the singer croons, “What you want is just outside your reach.”

To me, it didn’t sound like background music. The scene and the song accompanied each other perfectly. I looked up the song and listened to the album. With a reverb-steeped guitar, muddled vocals, and high-reaching trebles, Real Estateexposed me to a sound I had not heard before. I paused. For the first time in my life I felt connected to music and lyrics. The album evoked feelings of old, better times with wet sand sinking beneath my feet.

“Beach Comber,” the first track of the album, sets the summery and nostalgic feel. The riffs slowly ride in, and what begins as a person’s search for a Rolex

in the sand turns into a moment of self-actualization. Lead singer Martin Courtney’s voice delivers heart-burst yearning as cymbals crash, and the guitar and bass flow endlessly over each other. Courtney sings, “But what you find ain’t what you had in mind / Until you find that Rolex in the sand / You won’t be stopping until that solid gold is in your hand / You won’t be happy.”

As the song mellows off, picks up and begins to taper away again, I can imagine walking on a shoreline, the ebb and flow of water brushing the sand. The music fades out, and the footprints seem to go farther and farther back, eventually leading to far see. As the washed tones of the guitar wane, the waves calm. A closure is reached.

For many songs on Real Estate, the instrumental music expresses more than the vocals. With terse lyrics, imagery is found in layers of seemingly low-key sounds. In the six-minute jam session, “Suburban Beverage,” the lyrics consist solely of, “Budweiser, Sprite / Do you feel of alright?” The drink combination is simple, but it stands for more. As the guitar and bass clamber along, the drums remain dormant, and the image of close friends sitting in a backyard and drinking beer arises. The rhythms stay relaxed until the three-minute mark of the song. It becomes even more subdued to mark the toast and appreciation of the moment. Then, like the friend who always breaks the silence by doing something crazy— dive-bombing into a pool, let’s say—the guitar begins its rapid seduction while the drums ride in on gentle waves. Part dreamy and part hallucinogenic, the track washes over you.

Two years after their eponymous debut, Real Estate released Days, a sharper and stronger affair that sounded less sun- drenched but still remained nostalgic. Although the band plays at bigger venues with bigger crowds now, Real Estate stays true to their roots. The band made a “return to Ridgewood” in January by playing a show at K&K Super Buffet, a Chinese buffet in Queens. I imagine this show was reminiscent of their pre-established days as a band, playing spontaneous shows in basements, garages, and any odd places possible. It is fitting for this band. Through hazy lo-fi melodies, their sound captures the enchantment of simpler times. Listening to Real Estate bought me a sense of nostalgia that I had not heard expressed in music before.