Through three albums, Real Estate have carved out a clear niche for themselves as the go-to band for beautiful guitar-laden songs about suburban ennui. Real Estate deals heavily in subtlety and so the growth from 2011’s Days to this new album is hard to see at first. On the first few listens Atlas may feel like another set of ten jangle pop tracks about love and summer days. And it basically is. But the growth really shows itself through the band’s compositional tightness. The songwriting feels an inch or two stronger and the tone of the record is a bit more detached and melancholic.
Yet Real Estate isn’t too detached here. In fact, the general absence of metaphor in these lyrics is refreshing. For instance, on “Crime,” lyrics like “Toss and turn all night / don’t know how to make it right / crippling anxiety” are immediately direct and stand in contrast to the subtle guitar precision that laces every song. It makes for a strange effect, like it’s music that’s almost begging to fall into the background. Despite the mentions of crippling anxiety, this music is extremely comfortable when placed in the background. It certainly doesn’t challenge you or even keep you guessing, but there’s something to be said for being a lovely soundtrack to almost any moment.
And it’s effort well spent to really dig into these songs and force yourself to scrutinize them. “April’s Song” comes in like a breeze with its quick tempo and light guitar plucking. If you miss it, you end up missing out on some gorgeous guitar melodies that play over each other so effortlessly and smoothly. It’s entirely instrumental and one of the best songs of the year. The same could likely be said for “Talking Backwards,” which is lovely in its simplicity. It may be Atlas’s answer to “It’s Real” as an immediate stand-out that serves as a perfect mission statement for the band. And ‒ in what may be the best way of summing up Atlas ‒ it’s a “stand-out” that takes at least 3-5 listens to be fully appreciated and absorbed.
Ultimately this is an extremely rewarding album, whose rewards creep up on your gradually but undeniably. It does so by managing to give off a veneer of simplicity above gorgeous details. It makes for a record you can’t help but go back to again and again.