Albums You Might Like: Atlas by Real Estate

There wasn’t an album released in 2015 that really hit me over the head or stole my heart. In 2014, Real Estate’s Atlas hit me over the head, stole my heart, and earned a hat trick of being my top Spotify album listen, an iTunes purchase, and a vinyl purchase. This tuneful, indie-guitar driven album fits in a pocket that isn’t quite late-70's California rock, 80's college rock, 90's melancholia or early 2000's indie rock. These are all well-worn genres that you can hear in it, but Real Estate managed to create something new. Atlas is an easy-playing album that gets deeper with every listen, unfolding under layers of guitars, organ, and vocals to expose a great set of pop songs.

I liked Real Estate’s Days and a few of their other songs, but the band fell off my radar until I heard this record. It didn’t floor me on first listen, but hooked me within one or two more listens. Real Estate grew into their songwriting and production. Partially recorded at Wlico’s Loft studios, everything on Atlas just clicks. “Had to Hear” starts off appropriately with its big, jangly guitar intro and dreamy, weary vocals announcing “I’m out again on my own/A reflection in the chrome/Of an idle machine/It’s been so long.” This is the sound of a band on the road, calling home to make a connection. Matt Mondanile’s guitar equals that longing in its drippy, echoey reverb.

This is a unified album in sonics and subject, a complete record worth digging into more deeply. There’s a hidden majesty to this album, even if the songs seem to be simple, jangly alt-rock tracks. “The Bend” and “Past Lives” are moody, difficult, and yet serene and sweeping. Side two starts with “Crime” and layers on top of the water, shimmering all the way through the album closer, “Navigator.” Chris DeVille in Stereogum’s review notes, “it seemed like nothing more than immensely pleasant background music, but its contours came into focus…” with each listen.

Atlas is an album about finding your bearings in the world, hence the title: Martin Courtney’s lyrics search for the horizon in “Had to Hear,” visit old neighborhoods in “Past Lives,” and look to the stars to guide him on “Primitive.” In “The Bend,” our narrator steps off into the world, trying to right himself, “It’s all that I can do/Because it’s so hard to feel/In control here/Like I’m behind the wheel/But it won’t steer.”

The shimmering guitar, upbeat tempos, and lighthearted melodies counter the dourness or any angst behind the searching lyrics, keeping this clear of becoming a Galaxie 500 record (not that’s a bad thing). Martin Courtney’s 2015 release Many Moons almost made my top 10 and is a gorgeous listen. But, Atlas still made my top 10 Spotify listens from 2015. I suspect it will still be around in the coming year.

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