d9f36f89There’s something bizarrely unfathomable about Real Estate, and third album Atlas especially. There’s nothing overwhelmingly striking about their sound, we have a classic jangly guitar dynamic, eschewing any Zeitgeist leap towards electronica. There’s a distinct lack of choruses, at least in the traditional sense of reaching a musical, emotional, vocal pinnacle. Previous album Days‘ carefree languidness has given way to apathy and disaffection on Atlas. No longer are Real Estate making music for drinking in the early sun – a stretch in Manchester at any rate. And yet, they remain irresistibly charming and engaging.

There’s a lot to be said for lead guitarist’s Matt Mondanile’s interplay with vocalist Martin Courtney. While Mondanile channels the spirit of The Shadows, Courtney summons the ghost of an Oh, Inverted World James Mercer exorcising something that’s every bit as hauntingly thrilling as that might sound. Real Estate’s two leads are always in sync, sometimes augmenting each other, sometimes picking up where the other leaves off, and always overloading the sound with a surfeit of melody. They spoil us, they really do.

In any case, Real Estate were never quite as care free as they seemed. Days primarily dealt in nostalgia, Courtney not singing about the present, but the resplendent, dead past. Take ‘Easy’ for instance, “Around in the field we grow, with love for everyone. Dreams we saw with eyes of hope, until that dream was done.” Or the subtly underlining melancholy of Green Aisles, “All those wasted miles, all those aimless drives through green miles, our careless lifestyle it was not so unwise”. Courtney was always singing from the perspective of a man who has seen better days, and does not want to deal with the present, until now.

For Atlas is, finally, Courtney’s attempt to deal with the here and now, albeit marked with a degree of self-acknowledged failure. On ‘How I Might I Live’, he struggles, fails, gives up and refuses to deal with a relationship where the river of love has run dry: “How might I live to betray you…got to find the words to say you’re not the one I love…but I give up so I’m going on”. How very Courtney, and how very Real Estate to make such failure seem so attractive.

The lack of musical transition from Days to Atlas imbues Real Estate with a growing sense of self-confidence, even if said confidence comes at a cost, “I don’t need the horizon to tell me where the sky is…it’s been so long; I call you up; I had to hear you just to feel near you, I know it’s not true but it’s been so long”. And that clearly defines Atlas, the tension between holding onto the past – past relationships, lives and places – and embracing the uncertain future, or the horizon as it is most commonly characterised. This is most clearly and forlornly expressed in ‘Past Lives’, and broadened when ‘Talking Backwards’ reveals Courtney’s discomfort in his own skin.

Is it simple irony, then, that musically Real Estate haven’t moved on at all? Perhaps, although I can imagine that, through the pressures of touring and recording, the music is the one constant to latch onto. It’s certainly indicative of the mood of the album as a whole that the most joyful (and wonderful?) track, ‘April’s Song’, is the only one on which there are no vocals – even the tropical calypso vibe of ‘The Bend’ can’t temper Courtney’s temper.

And yet Mondanile so skilfully counteracts and counterpoints Courtney that even such sustained disaffection gets hijacked and transformed into something far more summery and less lugubrious – his guitar lines on ‘Primitive’ and album closer ‘Navigator’ are especially incredible.

All of which leaves us with an album that, as lost as it is in the past and future, is definitely both present and tense. And it is tension that marks the album as a whole – the tension between letting go of the past and approaching the future with something even remotely approaching positivity, and the tension between Courtney’s instinctive negativity and Mondanile’s positivity. Atlas overwhelmingly succeeds precisely because of these opposing forces, and fails, only slightly, because, despite (or perhaps because of) all the challenges life is throwing at them, Real Estate have not challenged themselves musically. Still, when the closing notes of ‘Navigator’ manifest themselves, it’s hard to resist the impulse of restarting the album, and opening another beer.


Release Date 03/03/2014 (Domino Records)

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Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...