Real Estate. Even the name is dull.
Recently signed to Domino records, Real Estate's second album – Days – is something of an anomaly in a label roster which boasts the freeform electronica abstractions of Four Tet; the disturbing latter visions of Tricky, and which only last year released The Fall's blistering return-to-form album: Your Future Our Clutter. A clear thematic thread is by no means essential to a flourishing independent label. If anything, genre diversification could be argued as a necessary step in surviving beyond the first decade. Even the most obvious examples of the 'boutique label' almost always sign acts which are clearly hoped to be the mainstream crossover product which will hopefully stifle the moans of investors and silent partners (who have chosen to break their silence).
something home-made that's put together with love
Historically, signing Real Estate is not an anomaly. Domino came to mainstream prominence largely through their involvement with Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, but their emphasis previous to that was on American lo-fi acts such as Pavement or Smog. The quirky ethos and rough edges of those acts continues to be a theme with the label, by their own admission they like their sound to be described as ''something home-made that's put together with love''.
Which is why Days seems so out of place on the label. Expand the range of genres covered by all means. It's not the 90s any more, music consumers are no longer boxed into their own self-imposed parameters of taste dependent upon whether an act uses guitars or laptops to create their art. We no longer wrestle with our conscience as we did when Faith No More brought hip-hop vocal delivery to hard rock, or The Stone Roses shocked us with their goth-mod fusion of house beats and skag-guitars. It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, and we're used to it now. Britney's doing dubstep, after all. So expand your remit, Domino, by all means. But could we, please, have some quality control?
We no longer wrestle with our conscience as we did when Faith No More brought hip-hop vocal delivery to hard rock
Because listening to Real Estate's floppy janglepop after a blast of Your Future Our Clutter has as disheartening an effect as attempting to recapture the holiday mood of a tropical oceanside spa by rolling in a Huddersfield puddle. Perhaps New Jersey never had The Stone Roses, The Smiths or even Echobelly. If so, it's possible that Days is designed to be a remedial educational tool to illustrate how the Spector wall of sound came to evolve from a West Coast symphony of seventeen virtuoso guitarists placed into an expansive Los Angeles studio with a reverb pedal, to a Salford bedsit with one virtuoso guitarist and seventeen reverb pedals. If the intention is simply to introduce the music fans of the US to the narcotic effects of modal chords played on semi-acoustic Epiphones with the chorus pedal turned up to eleven, a simpler tactic would be to download one of the many BBC 6Music retrospective podcasts on the career of Johnny Marr. At least the incidental music would hold the attention. Days, conversely, is as quickly forgotten as it is heard.
Oh certainly, the melodies are pleasant. The harmonies deliver the aural hug that all the most predictable uses of harmony are so good at. Sugary sweet and unjarring all, even the jangly guitars are missing the single-coil brightness of the classic Kinks-Byrds-Marr sound that would, presumably, be too distracting to the opiate wash of inoffensive psychedelia-mumble that constitutes the album. Truly, it flannels its way from 'Sally Cinnamon' to 'Girlfriend in a Coma', back across the pond to 'California Dreamin'', rips a chunk from 'Carrie Anne' and then soaks them all in a vat of edge-removing emulsion until they resemble nothing much but a vague sense of 'I'm sure I've heard that before somewhere'.
it flannels its way from 'Sally Cinnamon' to 'Girlfriend in a Coma', back across the pond to 'California Dreamin'
'Out of Tune' is the pick of the bunch, with a wistful yearning nostalgia that, in isolation, would be endearing. More evocative of drive-ins and diners than faltering debuts at working men's clubs, it's a more honest attempt at cultural scab-picking than anything else on the album. It is though, nowhere near as effective or erudite as Crystal Antlers' exploration of the same theme in Two-Way Mirror. The rest of the album simply fails to evoke anything other than a browse through your record collection in the hunt for the original sources.
Real Estate – Days Label: Domino Records