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Real Estate - Days

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Artist: Real Estate

Album: Days

Label: Domino

Review date: Oct. 17, 2011

When Real Estate toured with Kurt Vile last year, they debuted two new songs. It could have been more, but these were the two that clearly stuck out, and they were also the two new songs they went on to play on a Daytrotter session some months later. The first was “Art Vandelay,” what I called a “perfect little pop song” when Matt Monandile wisely kept it for himself for his own Ducktails album. The second has gone nameless until finally appearing now on Days, “Out of Tune,” is similarly a perfect little pop song that possesses a hesitant shuffle as Martin Courtney indicts all those around him, singing “You play along to songs written for you / but you’re all out of tune.”

Writing aside, this song strikes a tone with the disturbances taking place across the country and especially close to Real Estate’s New Jersey stomping grounds. The Wall Street protests are railing against an establishment and a system that has been thrust on the general public but is woefully incompatible. It is on a much more sensational and polarizing scale that they are taking place, but some of this same unease is captured by Real Estate. And given the age of the song — more than likely, this is one of the oldest on the album — the band also proves itself to be in tune with the culture at large. The distance between pop music and populism in this case is refreshingly small.

The big question for Real Estate, then, is this: What happened between “Out of Tune” and the rest of Days? Because taken as a whole, the album pushes their laid-back sensibilities past the realm of insipidity into a sinister catatonia. Days will be called chill, but in reality it is a powerful narcotic that is built to simultaneously desensitize emotion and incite nothing in its place. In many ways, it is the most dangerous kind of album that can exist at this time.

This is most obvious in “All the Same,” which equivocates for more than seven minutes that “It’s okay, it’s alright / because the day is just another night.” The scary thing is that Courtney really sounds like he means it. Whatever “All the Same” is actually about — consumerism, uniformity, authoritarianism, the helplessness to change anything in the face of domineering institutions — is inconsequential, not because the band doesn’t care, but because it doesn’t matter. You could call this optimism, pragmatism, even resilience in the face of adversity. But the blunted edge of the song smacks of a hazy-eyed apathy that seems irresponsible for anyone who commands an audience.

And it’s not just the message, either. The medium has also broken down completely into a kind of horrific cruise ship melody. Without the vocals to distract on the instrumental “Kinder Blumen,” the band’s lifelessness is laid bare. It doesn’t just lack a heartbeat. It lacks any sight of heart at all.

The closest the band returns to any grounding in reality comes on “Municipality,” possessed of a Malkmus-like apprehension for the suburbs that birthed them, and “Wonder Years,” a bittersweet ballad of young love, lust and loss. But even here, the grasp becomes slack when Courtney Alex Bleeker reverses course with “I’m not OK / but I guess I’m doing fine.”

At the end of the day, no one is required to take a stance. And at times, remaining apolitical can be the most political stand one can take. But Days is not a conscious decision to refrain from the discourse, or even an unwillingness to divulge a certain position. Additionally, the blandness of the music is not some tongue-in-cheek commentary on the lowest common denominator guitar rock that dominates college airwaves, online review farms and music mags alike. It is empty, plain and simple. Devoid of any feeling. It is unremarkable to the point of being enraging, inciting a desire to smash a window or crash a car to confirm that, yes, you are still conscious, and that for every action there is in fact an equal and opposite reaction. So while I’m not asking, or ever expecting, Real Estate to challenge anything, I am asking that they at least continue to write songs that are grounded in some reality. Because at a time of generic excess, I have no tolerance for a band that cares so little.

By Evan Hanlon

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