Track-by-Track: Real Estate’s Atlas (2014)
As the days continue to get longer, flowers start to blossom, and the Texas heat starts coming back, spring’s blossoming is impossible to ignore so it’s only fitting to pair this season with an equally radiant and gorgeous album that has stood the test of time and created waves throughout the 2010s indie scene.
Real Estate’s Atlas, released in March of 2014, is the perfect companion for sunny spring afternoons. Filled with pristine and glossy lead guitar melodies, crisp rhythm sections, and beautifully harmonized vocals, Atlas provides the listener with a melancholy soundscape that carries with it slight glimpse of hope that can speak to just about anybody. Sitting at 10 tracks and just over 38 minutes long, this wonderful arrangement is sure to lighten up your spring mood.
One of my favorites off the record, “Had to Hear”, introduces us into the album with what will continue to be a constant throughout… a simple yet elegant rhythm guitar section that is eventually built up by the accompanying instruments creating a perfectly synchronized ensemble. At the forefront of the song are both Martin Courtney’s vocals sharing the spotlight with Mondanile’s playful lead melodies. I’ve always found it very inspiring how they’re able to trade the listener’s attention back and forth so eloquently.
“Past lives” slows it down a bit while portraying themes of nostalgia and revisiting places in which one has had many memories, especially those memories that were shared with someone else.
“This is not the same place I used to know
But it still has that same old sound
And even the lights on this yellow road
Are the same as when this was our town”
It’s clear that the Courtney’s words were the meant to be the focus of the song as the vocals feature great layered harmonies throughout but the simple yet effective bass line and back and forth between the rest of the instruments are impossible to ignore. With a constant beat behind them, the guitars, bass, and synth section trade back and forth in an almost conversational manner which honestly leave me needing to slow dance along.
Their next track, “Talking Backwards” is one that I relate to the most and stands as one of the album’s best tracks. As someone that grew up with a slight stuttering problem and still encounters difficulty finding the best words to say when in conversation, “I might as well be talking backwards. Am I making any sense to you?” and “Nothing I said came out right” often comes to mind. On top of that the chorus is one of the catchiest off the album so it’s always a joy to sing to.
Next up is perhaps my personal favorite off the album as it combines a lot of what I enjoy about music into one cohesive musical piece. As an instrumental, “April’s Song” lets the instruments do ALL the talking, and they really do paint a picture of what a beautiful spring day in April is without a single lyric. The chorus and reverb filled guitars working in tandem with one another while Bleeker’s bass and Pollis’ drums lay down the beat perfectly emphasizing every downbeat and driving the song forward, all while Kallman’s keyboard ever so gently fill up the gaps in the background, propelling every other instrument upward.
Bleeker’s bass performance specifically is part of the reason I ever picked up a bass guitar as he showed me that the bass guitar can not only serve as a backbone for a song, but it can also do it’s own thing and play very melodically. This track really underlines the true strength of Real Estate by showing off their immaculate production quality and wonderful arrangements. As the song nears its end, it slowly starts to fade away until it reaches complete silence making it impossible for their melodies to not play in your head even after the song has ended.
“Have I not been clear, or do I sound insincere? I’m just trying to make some sense of this before I lose another year”. On “The Bend” the band again mixes lyrics that would seem sad by themselves, but the instruments bring a sense of optimism while Courtney expresses a lack of control of his own life and a failed relationship.
While it could be easy to miss, Pollis’ drumming is one of the most impressive performances as he skillfully plays exactly what the song needs at the time. His fills are not flamboyant, they’re not over the top, they are just right. The breakdown leading us toward the end of the song is one of my favorite moments off the album as it contrasts from the rest of the song’s arrangement by slowing everything down and just works as a killer outro.
Continuing the trend of extremely precise drum performances and dreamy open chords, “Crime” is another standout track off the album, featuring the catchiest lead guitar hooks off the project. “Toss and turn all night, don’t know how to make it right, crippling anxiety”, Courtney continues to describe internal battles he faces after doing something he clearly regrets. One of my favorite things about this song is just how it also features the best guitar solo of the album; Mondaline’s guitar rips through showing off a near flawless lead guitar tone. The solo features plenty of variety that always captivates the listener and is a superb segue into the final chorus.
“Don’t know where I want to be, but I’m glad that you’re with me” has always stuck with me ever since I first heard the song. “Primitive” features the best vocal performance of the album, combining multiple layers of Courtney’s voice into a what sounds like a mini choir. Again, the song does a fantastic job of allowing not just Courtney’s vocals to be front and center but lead guitar melodies as well. These don’t barrage the song with moves that would come off as pretentious or wanting to show off and allow for plenty of “breathing” in between each phrase.
“How Might I Live” stands out from the rest of the album considering the song was written and sung by bassist Alex Bleeker. While the song features tones the listener would already be familiar with when compared to the rest of the album, Bleeker’s deeper voice and slower pace certainly add a different feel when compared to the rest of the album and while. I am a huge fan of Bleeker on the bass, this song does not land towards the top of my favorites list.
Continuing the Spring theme, “Horizon” again plays with the descriptive subject matter of landscapes around him, changing seasons, “sprawling landscapes,” and the longing for a loved one that he feels surprised to have by his side; one that he always thought would be “just over the horizon”. The world is a vast place with billions of people walking through it, yet he was somehow able to find the person for him.
Finishing off the album “Navigator” stands out to me in that it uses an unconventional verse-chorus-chorus-verse format which you don’t really come across to often but it works well for the song. Its calm and smooth tones provide the listener with a soft end to the project, with lyrics that reminisce and romanticize earlier days. His descriptive imagery does a great job of eliciting memories of a suburban lifestyle even if you’ve never really had any of your own.
All in all, Atlas serves as a great album to not only create a mood or vibe for a suburban spring day, but its themes of lost loved ones, mortality, time and the changes that come with it are sure to leave one reflecting on their own lives after listening. The instrumentation has inspired me countless times and left me yearning for music with a similar sound. It’s an album that I’ve found myself constantly revisiting since its release, and still stands as one of the greatest indie albums of the 2010s.