Ten years on from the release of their surf-pop infused debut, ‘The Main Thing’ sees Real Estate move from window gazing towards something vaguer. With a tip of the hat to Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’, the New Jersey quintet are seen here wielding wistfulness through a vantage point of maturity, taking cues from that album’s artistic ingenuity and it’s sophist-pop glossiness. It seems like Real Estate are content to distinguish themselves by being somewhat less distinguishable.
While still firmly rooted in cloudy, whimsical indie-pop, ‘The Main Thing’ takes from a broader range of influences than on more recent efforts. Martin Courtney channels his inner Nicolas Godin on the ‘Moon Safari’-esque opening track Friday, all layered vocals and washed out soundscapes. It does go on, though, for a needless five minutes. Paper Cup sees the accompaniment of Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, her dreamy backing vocals propping up Courtney’s ruminations on growing up before a rather rockist guitar solo brings the song to an end. Elsewhere, Courtney’s sweetened vocals soak up the sun on Gone and cheerfully swaying through the breeze of Shallow Sun’s nostalgic overtones (“25 in 2010 / Never going back again”).
‘The Main Thing’ reveals its best self during its shorter, sweeter moments. The title-track juxtaposes an honourable promise to “stay true” with Real Estate’s signature airy sound. The guitar driven November is as catchy and earnest as the band have ever been as Courtney tells his children “I can’t imagine what will be / in your earliest memories”.
However, Real Estate seem caught in-between going back to the old well and drawing from a new source. ‘The Main Thing’ blends chilled out vibes with solemn, soul-searching lyrics. The band aim for the element of surprise in a minimal attempt at subverting their signature sound and while the album is an easy listen, it doesn’t ever feel like much happens.