Real Estate Let in Some Light on Daniel

The Brooklyn-via-New Jersey band’s sixth album shows traces of kaleidoscopic optimism.

Music Reviews Real Estate
Real Estate Let in Some Light on Daniel

There was a while when Real Estate was pretty much the musical embodiment of youthful ennui. The Brooklyn-via-New Jersey band made languorous songs—on albums like In Mind and Atlas—about self-doubt in its various forms, most often in the context of relationships. Eventually, though, adulthood comes creeping in, and the ennui changes shape, even if the existential uncertainty doesn’t fully go away.

The songs are still languorous on Daniel, Real Estate’s sixth album, but the self-indulgence of young people obsessed with themselves and their youth has dissipated. It’s tempting to say that what has replaced it is nostalgia for the self-indulgence of being young, but that’s not quite right. There is sometimes nostalgia on these 11 tracks, but more often Real Estate are seeking connection in a fractured world where the jagged ends never quite line up. They do it tastefully throughout. The group recorded Daniel in Nashville with producer Daniel Tashian (Kacey Musgraves), though the album rarely sounds like anything other than Real Estate, with the addition of pedal steel guitar here and there. “Victoria,” toward the end of the album, is an exception: The song has a countrified vibe with rolling piano and hazy vocals from bassist Alex Bleekman, instead of Martin Courtney.

If anything, the group has gotten better at keeping the subtlety of their music, and their lyrical sentiments, from straying over the line into dull. The first single, “Water Underground,” spins twice through verse, pre-chorus and chorus—a simple structure that feels infinitely more complex thanks to the intertwining of chiming guitars, a dry resonant bassline and shifting layers of backing vocals. It’s kaleidoscopic. Elsewhere, opener “Somebody New” is taut and bright, with cascades of gleaming guitar spiraling down around Martin Courtney’s plaintive vocals. He sounds as surprised as anyone on the chorus when he delivers the lines that sum up the feeling of the whole LP: “Hey buddy what’s got into you / You’re picking up the slack.”

There’s not much slack on Daniel, even if not every song has that same low-key buoyancy. “Freeze Brain” features some of the most vivid lyrics on Daniel, though there’s not much musical movement and the minor-key vocal harmonies lend the song an overcast feel that even Courtney seems to acknowledge, singing, “Let’s let some light in.” Later, they do let in some light, on the upbeat—maybe even optimistic—“Market Street,” though Courtney expresses discomfort about the whole idea when he sings, “Things don’t seem right / Bathed in sunlight.” Courtney shouldn’t let it rattle him too much: As Leonard Cohen once observed, there’s a crack in everything—it’s how the light gets in. On Daniel, Real Estate take note of the cracks, and inch bit-by-bit toward the light.

Watch Real Estate’s Paste Studio session in New York City in 2020 below.

Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013. His work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and Pitchfork, among other publications. He writes Freak Scene, a newsletter about music in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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