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October 18th is always a special day of the year for me as a result of it being my wife’s birthday. This year it got a little extra dose of special when – in addition to it being our first time celebrating her birthday as a married couple – it saw the release of not one, but two of the best albums of 2011. The epic double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83, and the understated Days by Real Estate, have been helping to end a pretty great year in music on a very high note. Sonically the two albums couldn’t be more different, with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming being one of the grandest (read “over the top in a good way”) musical statements in recent years, and Days being one of the most artfully restrained. Both albums find common ground in their apparent desire to turn youthful nostalgia into catharsis, but whereas M83 auteur Anthony Gonzalez created an IMAX ready cinematic experience for the ears, Martin Courtney (singer/guitarist) and his Real Estate cohorts have produced something more akin to a series of Super8 home movies. I’ve read a few reviews of Days that bemoan a perceived lack of ambition by Real Estate on this their second full-length, which I think unjustly casts the band as being creatively inert. Days may not possess the same revelatory moments of studio wizardry as those found on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but the memories and emotions it conjures are just as enormous and palpable.
Days opens with the sweeping panorama of “Easy”, which flicks on with blustering activity like watching a home-movie where you don’t remember exactly what‘s going on yet, or when, but everybody appears to be very happy. When Martin Courtney sings the first words “Back when we had it so easy / I would surrender completely,” it’s almost like he’s suggesting you take this as an opportunity to do the same. The buzzing ruminations of “Easy” gives way to the beach stroll pace of “Green Aisles,” with its sunset guitar melody and a bass-line that isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere in particular. The albums opening hat-trick is completed by “It’s Real”, a true pop-gem that would not sound out of place on a pre Rubber Soul Beatles album, with it’s Lennon’esque first-person vulnerability, backbeat buoyed chorus, and a melody that’s catchy as hell.
In Matthew Hickey’s review of the self-titled debut full-length by Real Estate he commented on how growing up together helped facilitate the considerable chemistry between the core members of the group. That chemistry, along with their chops, has evolved to give them effortless command of their influences and individual pop sensibilities. The bands interplay on tracks like the Latin tinged instrumental “Kinder Blumen,” and the wonderfully Fleetwood Mac’ian “Out Of Tune”, seems almost telepathic. The Alex Bleeker (bass/vocals) helmed “Wonder Years” could be an alternate theme song for its apparent namesake. With lyrics that could be describing the many trials of Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper, “Wonder Years” is a straightforward song about love-angst that eschews the emotional broad-strokes that Real Estate, more or less, use to create their trademark hypnotic sound. Closing track “All The Same” almost literally sums up the fact that there isn’t a bad track or a wasted note on Days. It’s a rousing finale that suggests a feeling of time slipping away as summers start feeling shorter and relationships become harder to maintain.
M83 has Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming poised to become a crossover hit with lead single “Midnight City” already appearing in a Victoria’s Secret ad, and their jaw-dropping performance of the same song on Jimmy Fallon generating much well deserved buzz. Meanwhile, Real Estate is taking a more scenic route to the hearts and minds of the music loving masses. They’ve been developing a mystique of sorts, built around romanticized visions of their upbringing in the Jersey suburbs. Real Estate are in some ways doing for coastal life on the east what Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did for the west in the early 60s; transporting their listeners to vaguely familiar places via reflections on universal experiences. Days may someday be lauded for offering one of the more unique glimpses of what it was like to come of age during the most turbulent and fast changing periods in America since the 1960s. More importantly I hope that it inspires teenagers who might think to themselves “I just wasn’t made for these times,” to spend Saturday afternoons in their garage learning to play guitar by covering Real Estate songs.