Real Estate are boring. Their landscapes are dotted with unassuming flora and fauna like a Bob Ross painting. They’ve got a dozen wonderful songs nestled into three albums that piece together their boring-ness in a way that’s hard to decry. Their debut captured the “beach” band trend and the early releases on Captured Tracks, though it sounded clearer and less liquid. What was revealed in the reverie was that life is simple; and that Martin Courtney is happy to talk you through its banalities with a comforting manner.
The two following records were even more contented, containing specifics of Courtney’s healthy, yet “careless lifestyle” on “Green Aisles.” In Mind is an even clearer-sounding Real Estate – one that sees neither the minimalism of Real Estate nor the peaceful haze of Days. What comes through in the production is a Courtney that says many more words, but relates just a little as he always has: “I’ll meet you in the morning/Beyond that, I’ve got no plans”, he sings on centerpiece “Two Arrows”, as if we needed a reminder that he likes to keep things simple. This track contains an extended outro complete with sounds that could be found on a Quilt record. Through Courtney’s past-producer, Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere, there’s a connection between the two bands. It’s simultaneously cheap and heartwarming that they’d borrow styles. But, the instrumental here is so good, you could easily sink in and forget about the sad departure of longtime guitarist Matt Mondanile.
His absence is felt more strongly elsewhere. The relatively staid “Holding Pattern” has a pocketed lead guitar line from Jules Lynch, who compliments Courtney’s playing in a perfunctory manner on In Mind. “What this is is not real life/at least it isn’t boring”, sings Courtney mid-verse. His lyrics float about nicely, but all too often wind up containing four phrases. “White Light” is particularly victim to this pattern, giving the song a drudging predictability. Half way through one listen, it’s tiring enough to skip.
Apart from “Two Arrows”, there’s a lovely arrangement on closer “Saturday” that distracts from the formulism. Opening with soft pianos before a Real-Estate-album-closing-banger kicks in, it’s easy to remember the reasons why we’ve been enamored with this band for so many years.
Still, In Mind all too often feels like part two of Courtney’s 2015 solo record, Many Moons. The difference is that it’s more than him and Taveniere pulling the strings on this outing. The basslines of Alex Bleeker are as great as they’ve always been, but they’re further down in the mix than usual. Bleeker sings along to a chugging melody on “Diamond Eyes.” This track breaks things up from the Martin Courtney-show much like “How Might I Live” did for Real Estate’s last record, Atlas. Provided you make it to track nine, you’ll get the needed break from Courtney’s consistent vocal range.
It’s just as hard to throw shade on Real Estate as it always has. Particularly, it’s a new lineup, and the band deserves to be considered just as well as they were with Mondanile in tow. Though it sounds pristine from a studio perspective, it’s still the sound of a band that’s working through the changes. As such, the prospect of In Mind’s follow-up is very exciting.
Whether In Mind is a laborious or enchanting listen, it kicks off with “Darling”, which sounds just as great as it did when it dropped as the first single. The entire band pulls their rock and roll weight, and move through the broken time signature as if the song was as rollicking as “Beach Comber” was back in 2009. Though the rest of the record is conservatively written and performed, it is in a bold way. If your life needs to be stripped of its bombast for a little while, Real Estate remain a steadfast companion for a little R&R. Just don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit through the whole thing.