By Chris Hatch
Real Estate’s latest offering finds them relying on a tried and tested formula – over the course of their five studio albums, it feels like they have almost come full circle, but that’s no bad thing. New ideas and fresh experimentations fizzle away at the outer fringes of the album’s 13 songs, but at its core, The Main Thing hums along with a welcome familiarity.
After the initial spark of their self-monikered debut album, it was on sophomore release, Days, that the New Jersey band really started to gain traction, and almost 10 years on from its release, it feels like they have slipped back into that comfortable old skin. There are still elements of the sumptuous, velvet-lined production of In Mind flecked through The Main Thing – check out the gorgeous cool strings, and woody percussion on lead single Paper Cup, or the late-night shimmer of guitars on early album highlight, Gone. But, for the most part, it feels like Real Estate have gone back to basics and honed-in on the mix of jangly, summery pop, and mesmeric meditations that saw them spring to the forefront of indie blogs and magazines at the start of the last decade. It’s no surprise to hear then, that Kevin McMahon, who engineered 2011’s Days is once again at the controls.
There are still moments where the band pause to take stock and let the songs carve out their own path, but on the first half of the album at least, there is less room for introspection, and the band seem keen to get to the point. Opening track, Friday, could be cut from Air’s The Virgin Suicides OST – its slow-groove bassline and gently rippling synths create an enticing lilt to get swept away in. Lyrically, Friday sets out where front man Martin Courtney is at right now – searching for some meaning, or maybe reassurance about what his role exactly is in life and in the music world, as he asks ‘if this future’s so hard won, how come sometimes it feels so dumb?’
The album spikes at midway point, The Main Thing. The title track is a short, bright burst of pop that encapsulates what the band had been searching for when writing and recording the album – the main ‘thing’ in question being that idea, project or theme that brings out your passion or desire- it’s that kernel of something that sparks your creativity and drive.
It’s frustrating, then, that after putting their finger so precisely on what fuels their fire that the second half of the album loses focus a little – tracks which threaten to take on the hypnotic, spellbinding quality of old end up veering off, ponderously, and feel a little aimless. Having said that, there’s a certain charm to the pair of tracks that round off the album – Procession sees Courtney finally finding some of the peace he has been searching for, as he wanders back through his past both literally and metaphorically, while instrumental album-closer, Brother, floats away in a spiralling, end-of-credits, whirl of understated acoustic guitar and reverby overdubs that almost feels like the ending of a chapter for Real Estate.
A decade of writing, playing, recording, and touring have left Real Estate in the position of almost-elder-statesmen of the indie scene. The Main Thing is a record that echoes the languid, carefree jangle of Real Estate’s early work, but with a more mature, considered head on its shoulders. And while growing older may have mellowed their pop sensibilities slightly, there are still some glorious, sun-drenched patches of verve and vitality here. It might not have the genre-defining quality of their earlier work, but those who are already fans in particular will still find much to love.
Secret Meeting score: 78