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Artist: Real Estate

Album: Real Estate

Label: Woodsist

Review date: Nov. 16, 2009

“What you want is just outside your reach,” sings Martin Courtney in the first line of “Beach Comber,” the first song on Real Estate’s self-titled album. It’s a heavy start, one that lends the romping guitars and galloping snare beat a sense of adventure. There’s the honest belief that we’ll find the answer, too. Courtney encourages us to keep on searching -- on the Pensacola Beach, through the lost and found, in the sand until you find a Rolex.

And then he cuts himself short. He stops advocating getting what you want, flip-flopping by saying “until that solid gold is in your hand / you’ll be happy.” It’s not even that the journey and not the destination matters here, either. In this case, happiness is found in complacency. The song keeps swimming, but whatever motivation it held until that point dissipates.

Is this what happens when there is no greater cosmic meaning behind your frustration? Real Estate’s sound is imbued with the same sentimentality as the rest of the indie class of 2009, but with zero ambition. These are the kids that after graduation stayed behind to rot in suburbia while their friends all fled for the city. They are the children of middle managers who’ve racked up countless reward points from who knows how many trips to Margaritaville.

They may fall in with the hip crowd, but Real Estate deals in the same brand of escapism that Jimmy Buffett used to build an empire. Vaguely bossanova rhythms under declawed Link Wray riffs make a run at the Corona aesthetic, most egregiously on instrumental tracks "Black Lake," "Atlantic City" and "Let’s Rock the Beach." It’s both upbeat and ethereal, an effective slot filler for both the CMJ indie-elite and the post-Phish festival denizen.

Courtney’s voice, however, complicates the matter. He shows this isn’t just junior’s quarter-age production of a middle-life crisis. The music may create some verisimilitude of comfort, but Courtney’s illustrations of the minor tragedies of being young in New Jersey reveal an actual failure of the whole music-as-escapism system. Buffett creates a far away fantasy that your parents believed in. "Fake Blues," though, fully acknowledges not just the illusion but the absurdity of the song’s very nature. When Courtney sings “it’s not as if I choose to be sad with these fake blues,” he indicts himself on two counts – for buying into an imaginary world where the stakes are much higher, and for fabricating the song’s very sentimentality.

The stakes, in actuality, are remarkably low. In “Suburban Beverage,” angry youth "run away from your house / and come back the same day." Its companion song is even less consequential. “Suburban Beverage” is a six-minute jam session that wrestles with the most important existential crisis there is on the weekend: do you stick to soda so you can drive home, or say fuck it and get hammered on heavy beer?

Yes, these songs are eminently relatable, and real easy listening, but a closer look reveals a very conflicted aesthetic. Lazy, comfortable dream pop runs counter to the restlessness inhabiting Courtney’s lyrical content. Real Estate strives for otherworldliness even as it lulls the agitated mallrats back into a safe place. The band unwittingly undermines it’s own attempts at expanding the kids’ consciousness. Instead of transcendence through imagination, songs like “Fake Blues” remain emotionally unresolved. Courtney’s concerns remain largely provinicial. And the dreams of teenagers stranded in the ‘burbs, who subscribe to the belief that there’s “something more” for them, are never realized. In English class, you can sum it up with Hemingway: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” But in real life, you have to deal with the real shit: “Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel alright?”

By Evan Hanlon

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