There’s a Corona commercial that instructs us to “find our beach” amid the noise and commotion of our everyday lives. That’s a pretty tall order even with a beer in hand, but after listening to Atlas, the new album from New Jersey indie rock band Real Estate, I think I might have come close.
Real Estate makes surf-tinged psychedelic rock that evokes a subtle sense of nostalgia, although for what, it’s hard to tell. A vague sense of something lost permeates the songs, which are driven by pretty guitar lines and soft percussion. Where they’re driving we don’t know, but sometimes it’s more about the ride anyway.
Opener “Had to Hear” establishes the sleepy ambiance present throughout Atlas. Guitarist Matt Mondanile’s lead guitar glows softly while Jackson Pollis’ steady percussion provides just enough backbone to keep the music upright and moving.
The laid-back vibes continue uninterrupted through the rest of the album. Songs pass in a hazy blur, like nameless towns on a sunset drive through the Midwest. Guitar licks repeat throughout tracks and the rhythm section proceeds at what feels like the same BPM for the whole album.
The broad similarity of the songs ends up being both a strength and a weakness for Atlas. The meticulous arrangements and skillful instrumentation ensure that each song is good, at the very least, but the repetitiveness starts to become numbing. It’s good that the album is kept to a relatively trim 38 minutes; any longer and it would start to make us feel a little bit woozy.
The lyrical content tends toward the simple and the repetitive, referencing vague yous and somethings. The nonspecificity keeps the sense of longing at a comfortable distance; blurred and obscured by time, it’s more of a comfortable companion than an antagonist.
Tropical flourishes on “The Bend” in the middle of the album pairs troubled lyrics like “I’m just trying to make sense of this / before I lose another year” with liquid lead guitar that promises our worries will disappear if we just forget about them.
Letting it all go is an oft-visited theme on the album. Lyrics about loss and worry fade into the gentle sway of the music, providing us with a space to just lay back and enjoy the ride.
The lone instrumental track “April’s Song” provides a nice sense of pacing, but doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the album, making it feel a bit unnecessary.
Penultimate track “Horizon” brings us back to reality with sharper percussion and clearer vocals. “Just over the horizon / that’s where I always think you’ll be,” vocalist Martin Courtney sings, pointing our gaze forward once again.
With gradual curves and even-tempered rocking, Atlas is an album better taken as a whole rather than picked into individual pieces. Its beauty comes from the feelings it evokes — or rather the feelings it pushes away. Real Estate creates pleasant aural spaces for us to inhabit where the harsh edges of reality are sanded into gentle curves.
3.5 out of 5 stars.