Review: Real Estate – Daniel

Artwork for Real Estate's Daniel album

“On Daniel, Real Estate’s sad happy machine will be able to teleport you anywhere.”

If we could use a sad happy machine, one that turned all the doubt and fear into joy at the flick of a switch, we’d use it wouldn’t we?

Or maybe the human condition dictates that we’re destined to live in times like the present, jealously guarding the occasional moments of feeling not shit like they were our children.

Real Estate were already grappling with this stuff on their last album, 2020’s The Main Thing, and that was even before global pandemics, wars and extra loony politicians came along.

More shade than light in comparison to their previous work, it was a record on which the New Jersey quintet sounded detached from themselves, even before the real dislocation came around.

Daniel was recorded at least with Real Estate together, coming from a fruitful nine days spent working with Kacey Musgraves’ producer Daniel Tashian at RCA Studio A in Nashville.

Is the record named after him? The band aren’t saying, their preference instead to explain their thinking as that it seemed like a good idea to bestow a human name on their sixth album. As logic, it’s undefeatable enough.

Back to making things sound beautiful when there are ghosts lingering in the background. Opener Somebody New begins simply enough with a gentle drum crescendo and a scatter of happy guitar chords before singer Martin Courtney’s gossamer voice sows a seed of doubt with, ‘Hey buddy/What’s got into you?’.

This angelic sounding backdrop to a sequence of different forebodings is a theme that recurs, the method it appears to sonically ice a cake made from things which are better left undiscovered.

Not everything is as ominous: on the mellifluous Water Underground, Real Estate venture a salute to the constant process of thinking about music as a flow, one that has beginning or end, one where, ‘You get an idea while driving or walking the dog or something and you want to hold on to it’.

There are some clear antecedents here, most obviously The Byrds/Beatles, period R.E.M and, if you’re looking to go deeper, the mid-eighties’ Antipodean scene from which the likes of The Chills and The Go Betweens emerged.

These ley lines are present some times more than others; both Flowers and Freeze Brain for example could’ve been culled from various back catalogues at any point in the last forty years, whilst the opalescent Say No More invokes what is for Courtney & co a familiarly backward looking aesthetic.

Flowers isn’t the only memento Real Estate bring forward from their sojourn in Tennessee. Despite vague protestations to the contrary, notions of country are also present on Haunted World (some rustic slide, a careless Rhodes) and more curiously on Victoria, a song tipped into weird by its peaky Wayne Coyne-esque vocals.

If that’s overtly striking out, there are hints everywhere that the delicate shapes being cast are on the brink of being sunk; on Interior a trip faces ruin (‘Maybe we should/Start to head back/fluorescent lights making me feel ill’), whilst on the gently nodding closer You Are Here there’s a sombre lyrical reminder that when it comes down to it, ‘We are all made of dust’.

Maybe we are, but why do people have to keep reminding us, you might ask. And if escapism in music is your thing then on Daniel, Real Estate’s sad happy machine will be able to teleport you anywhere, its soft focus one that means you have to squint hard to see the bad stuff.

Let it make you feel a little not shit, at least for a precious while.

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