Real Estate, a New Jersey-based indie-rock band, released its first album since 2017, titled “The Main Thing,” and for some fans, it may’ve been worth the wait. With soft indie-rock beats and dashes of folk here and there, Frontman Martin Courtney delves into the stresses of the ever-changing paces of life through introspection, reflection on the past, anticipation of the future and spits a few words of wisdom for his young daughters.
“Friday,” the album’s slow and mysterious opening song, invites listeners in with trippy orchestral sounds but then disappoints once flat vocals begin. The song is about the “illusion of control” people have over their lives and the one thing Courtney is sure of — his love for his partner. Containing only two verses, it’s a chill track that ponders daily existential crises and the support he feels from his partner.
“Paper Cup” is a single released about a month ago. This up-beat song, featuring electronic duo Sylvan Esso, is a somewhat dark tribute to their careers. The juxtaposition of the lyrics and sound aren’t unique, but it’s still interesting because of the way Courtney questions the assurance of being a musician. He compares other people’s consistent new quests with his stuck-in-a-rut mindset, singing, “I’m on the same bullshit.”
The third track, “Gone,” is a smooth and natural transition from the previous lively tune into a slow song about making wrong decisions with an exhausted state of mind. The song reflects this toxic cycle musically and lyrically with effectively repetitive verses and looped guitar chords, which can sometimes fail to keep listeners hooked.
“You” is directed toward Courtney’s children as he sings, “I can’t imagine what will be / In your earliest memories.” Courtney advises his daughters to “for now, enjoy the innocence” and “just dream your time away.” He “sees no better use for it” because eventually, “then you’ll have to get used to it.” Although the track includes an exhausted mantra, it is effective because as a parent who is a musician, Courntey should be encouraging his children to follow in his footsteps in making their dreams a reality, just like he did.
“November” is a nostalgic song reflecting on young love at 19 years old. Expressing what it was like in the last year of his teens, Courtney sings, “I was not here nor there / But I recall being alive.” He questions his love with lyrics, “Oh, did you feel that too?” as he confesses his longing and admits to them, “You know it was always you.” Although it may seem out of place for a love song to be recorded on this album, it works because it’s more so about feeling grounded with a loving partner during times of despair.
The trials and errors of success inspired “Falling Down,” a track about the inevitability of failure. With beautiful yet simple cold winter weather imagery, Courtney rebuts the idea of freewill, singing, “The wind’s the only thing that’s fully free.” Even though nothing is ever promised, “we’ll still take our chances” at living a fulfilled life. Contrary to the name, “Falling Down” projected so much warmth. The unexpected light and minimal folky rhythm throughout the track was so intriguing, especially for such a relatable and anxiety inducing subject.
“Also a But” is a song about the tragic state of pollution on this planet. Although not as comical and animated as Lil Dicky’s “Earth,” Courtney sings of these travesties by paralleling the beauty of nature with the reality that it’s all polluted, calling a lake “a poison bloom” and admitting he “could easily imagine any manner of disaster.” The figurative language and lack of preaching throughout the lyrics distinguishes this song from other political songs and relieves listeners with a piece of powerful art rather than a lecture.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, “The Main Thing” is what Courtney calls “an attempt at writing an inspirational anthem for anyone who’s ever been in an existential crisis.” However, it comes off cheesy rather than inspirational because of the overwhelmingly happy rhythm. He once again questions his life path of being a musician, wondering if being an artist makes him “irresponsible” or “selfish” when there are environmental issues to solve and his daughters to raise.
The album successfully continues on this positive tonal shift with the track “Shallow Sun.” It describes the process of growing up by anticipating a bright future while paying tribute to the memories of the past. With simple but impressive imagery of a setting “shallow sun,” Courtney sings of capturing the future “faces of the days to come” and savoring the “pieces of the shining past.”
“Sting” is a 1-minute-and-50-second instrumental piece. This song is a short and much needed break to recollect after heavy lyrics of doubt. However, the ambivalent tone foreshadows that there’s still much more to unpack, leaving listeners eager to hear the story continue.
“Silent World” is a curious song exploring how small humans are in a massive universe. Courtney sings, “Honestly, we’re not the only ones / Slipped to another world.” He panics about the darkness of our reality and the innocence of his daughters in lyrics like, “Can’t let you wander off / Out in this wicked world.” This song may make listeners a bit uneasy but that may be the point since the album’s concept is built around addressing uncomfortable philosophical questions about life.
As the title states, “Procession” is a nostalgia inducing tune with airy guitar chord progressions about moving along. Courtney reflects on memories faded to the past by recalling his childhood town and noticing that life never stops moving. The song is executed with opposing sounds similar to the production of “Paper Cup” and “Falling Down” filling this album with sad songs that sound happy, which isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but definitely entertaining.
“Brother” is another instrumental piece full of whimsical acoustic and groovy electric guitar chords. This closes the somewhat stressed-out album on a promising and hopeful tone, which was refreshing. A clean version of “Paper Cup” is the final track on the record; however, I didn’t find it necessary since the original version isn’t very explicit.
Real Estate’s “The Main Thing,” a cohesive record and easy listening experience, takes listeners to the darker, yet relatable side of Courtney’s anxious mind. The mellow musicality and grim lyrics juxtaposing each other portray the internal and external battles of everyday existential crises that people may experience and relate to every now and then.
The main downfall to the album is that the tracks are hard to differentiate and almost mesh together into one long song. Regardless, the album does deserve praise for its relatable apprehensive theme and remarkable combination of genre crosses.
Contact Diana DeVincent at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.