Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney is not a man to fall behind in the pack. So earlier this year, when bandmates Matt Mondanile and Alex Bleeker released albums from their side projects, Courtney responded with Many Moons, a 10-track solo effort that is artfully chilled Americana.
Many Moons is soft and slow, sweet and saturated, detailed with humility and reverberated grace. What can obviously be assumed as runoff from Real Estate’s 2014 breakthrough Atlas, Courtney created an album that comes from a place of embracing his adulthood. Torn between catching up on sleep and sense of self with the conclusion of a major tour, and lack of sleep and sense of self from becoming a new parent, Courtney accurately and sympathetically shares his struggle in coming to terms with his obstinate maturity.
Rooted in the suburbs of Ridgewood, New Jersey, it is a little surprising to hear the jangled, folk overtones that mimic Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s, forming a delicious cross-generation hybrid of The Kinks, Neil Young, The Shins and Real Estate. Perhaps most apparent of this influence is “Northern Highway,” one of the strongest singles from Many Moons. “Heading down the northern highway/Blinded by the setting sun/Trying to do this the right way/You don’t want to hurt no one,” Courtney opens over adorably twanged noodling that build to a perfectly put-together love song.
The needed cigarette-of-relief comes from the album’s title track. “Many Moons” is a lackadaisical instrumental that prominently features a fluttering flute, which leads a solo pilgrimage that expands upon the melody and energy of “Northern Highway.” With its sophisticated placement nearing the climax of the album, Courtney best demonstrates his ability to well-orchestrate power pop with impressive moving guitar lines, swelling strings and keyboard accompaniment that borders the freedom of Coltrane compositions.
Despite Courtney’s bold emergence as a solo artist, any success that comes from Many Moons must be shared among the moneyball personnel featured on the album. The overwhelmingly talented lineup Courtney recruited for his debut include Real Estate’s multi-faceted and very apparently versatile keyboardist, Matt Kallman, Ridgewood native singer/songwriter, Julian Lynch and Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere, who, with an identical appreciation for a nostalgic rock sound, produced Many Moons.
The quality and delicate musicality that is consistent throughout Martin Courtney’s first solo attempt is tremendous. Unfortunately, Many Moons fails to deliver any depth or practical thematic progress, a concern that is often evident in Real Estate albums, as well. Many Moons does not have 10 songs, rather four or five that are repeated slightly faster or slower, happier or sadder, and with a varying scale of drums and full orchestral arranging. Perhaps a leaner, less-ambitious EP, consisting of “Vestiges,” “Asleep” and “Airport Bar,” as well as the previously praised tracks, should have sufficed for Courtney’s solo unveiling.