Real Estate are from New Jersey—Ridgewood, to be exact, a not-quite-unposh suburban enclave 10 miles from the New York State border. “Everybody’s dad works on Wall Street,” explains singer/guitarist Martin Courtney. “Not really, but that’s the vibe—Moms driving Escalades, 14-year-old kids going to Starbucks.”
This isn’t exactly Springsteen territory: no muscular odes to running away and screwing and working union jobs ’til your back breaks. Instead, the quartet evokes the sort of sun-soaked suburbia wherein you hoard your post-wisdom-teeth-extraction Vicodin and snort it all at once on a perfect July afternoon while riding your bicycle and listening to songs full of jangling guitars and weird, reverb-heavy good vibrations. “It’s kind of a shitty place,” Courtney concludes. “But it’s also really pretty.”
Most of Real Estate graduated high school with Cassie and Katy of hot-shit pop dronesters the Vivian Girls, paying their dues with open-mic nights and (shudder) a Ben Folds Five cover band. After college (Washington State, Massachusetts, etc.), they returned to their oft-maligned home and officially launched the band in October 2008 with a debut seven-inch released by Underwater Peoples, a D.C. label run by members of the Ridgewood diaspora. Now, they’re celebrating their one-year anniversary with six CMJ shows, then a short tour with San Francisco indie-pop darlings Girls.
A full-length, out next month on Woodsist, is next: 30 percent of the song titles reference the beach in some manner, while another 30 percent are obsessed with water, either in lake or pool form. This is aquatic doldrums rock, just right for a shitty place that can also be pretty, if you squint. At first listen, there’s nothing monumental about the almost-two-minute instrumental opener “Atlantic City,” which unfurls guitar over a very rudimentary bass plucking out 12-bar-blues patterns. (Don’t mistake it for an ode to that sinful city by the sea: “Such a sleazy place,” Courtney clarifies.) Songs plod and ponder, in no hurry to get much of anywhere. “Let’s Rock the Beach” clocks in at under five minutes, but its plucked, meandering chords seem to hang in the air for longer than it takes to drive to Cape May. The bare-bones guitar lick that opens “Fake Blues” has the same stickiness potential as Peter Bjorn and John’s omnipresent whistling on “Young Folks,” bubbling and noodling on beneath Courtney’s confident croon. It’s both sedative and immediate.
Like their inspirations, the Clean, Real Estate take simple melodies and sentiments, and polish them into blissful, occasionally haunting pop music—they’ve got “sort of an earnest vibe about them,” Courtney says of the Kiwi cult legends, before projecting a bit: “You just get this feeling that they’re friends who are playing music together, just having a good time.” Other favorites: Kurt Vile, Woods, Yo La Tengo, Paul McCartney’s Ram, and, indeed, “the Beatles and all their solo shit.”
Real Estate is the perfect soundtrack for an economy in collapse: legions of overeducated, underemployed college grads living in their parents’ house again with no jobs and no hope, so why not crack that spiked lemonade and start a fucking band already? And join in with Courtney’s lament on “Green River”: “Sit in the shade of your beechwood trees/Don’t you know these days I ain’t hard to please?”
Real Estate plays an Underwater Peoples showcase on October 23 at the Delancey, among other CMJ dates. Details at myspace.com/letsrockthebeach
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2009