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Real Estate’s ‘Days’ gives Jersey a reason to be proud

6 mins read
Courtesy of slapthebass.com.

Matt Mondanile has been lingering on the fringe of the music scene for a few years now. His early releases under the Ducktails moniker attracted moderate attention from the blogosphere, and his most recent release, Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, garnered Mondanile critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and Spin Magazine. But perhaps Mondanile’s most successful project is his half-baked minimalist group, Real Estate. Hailing from Ridgewood, New Jersey, Real Estate first released its self-titled debut in 2009. Composed of only 10 songs written over the course of several years, the Woodsist Records release received a “Best New Music” nod from Pitchfork, and earned the group several opening slots including a Friday night set at the 2010 Pitchfork music festival in Chicago. Since that debut release, however, Real Estate has been rather quiet.

This past fall, Real Estate released their first single since 2009’s “Beach Comber,” titled “It’s Real.” The track by no means represents an evolution, or even a slight departure, from their previous releases, but rather it maintains the same simple aesthetic and gentle, rolling rhythm that made Real Estate unique and great to begin with. Composed of shimmering guitars, jangly hooks and rich harmonies, “It’s Real” continues on the same subtle and unassumingly great path that Real Estate had began to explore in 2009. When the follow up to the self-titled album, Days, was released on Domino Records two months later, it was clear the rest of the album had followed suit.

Though Days seems to rely on the same formula as past releases, and simplicity is clearly one of the main themes throughout, this is due to the effortlessness of the musicians more than a lack of complexity in the music. The opening track, “Easy,” seems to be a reference to the album’s carefree composition and production. Tracks such as “Green Aisles” and “Wonder Years” display layered guitars, understated echoes and a similar fluidity to both “Easy” and “It’s Real.” If anything, comparisons must be made to The Beach Boys, who crafted a long successful career using the same beach pop formula that later defined them. The impressive thing about Real Estate, though, is the rhythmic restraint for a band of such a young age. While it took The Beach Boys years to hone their simple restraint, Real Estate seems to have mastered it after only two albums.

Days certainly isn’t an example of forward-thinking experimentalism, and it’s most likely not an album that will stand out in the current electronic age. But its ability to make seemingly simple riffs into unexpectedly profound songs is remarkable. The lyrics pay homage to teenage suburbia and high school nostalgia, while the textures of the guitar reverb nearly mimic the textures found on the Jersey shore. In short, the album as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The lyrics, the cyclical riffs, the layers, and the airy landscape of the album are all natural. It’s cohesive. The album’s final track, “All The Same,” certainly speaks to the lack of change from Real Estate’s previously minimalist record, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Mondanile, and his various side projects, since his early days, opening for various acts, such as his show opening for Atlas Sound here at Swarthmore three years ago. And each time I have seen him, his show has been better than the last, never deviating from his effortless guitar plucks.

Most recently, however, I was able to see Real Estate in full form this past fall at the Pitchfork Festival in Paris, shortly before Days was released. Quite like Mondanile’s set here three years ago, Real Estate lulled the crowd into the subtle bounce of their unassuming beach rock and road trip tunes. After the hour and a half set, the crowd surfaced from its dreamlike state, clapped and for the rest of the festival reminisced on the hallucinatory effect of Real Estate’s set. When I listen to the album today, I can’t help but to enter into the same mindset. The simplicity and subtlety of the album makes it nearly impossible. So if you find yourself seeking a similar Spring haze a little early, be sure to give Days a listen.

Dylan is a junior. You can reach him at pjensen1@swarthmore.edu.

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