Real Estate represents an anomaly not only in the realm of modern indie rock but also in the wider sphere of modern life. During the last decade, artful, attention-getting indulgence has been the currency of much of the most-acclaimed indie rock, not unlike purely provocative clickbait produced to generate shares or colorful food made to be devoured by the eyes of Instagram. But since 2009, this suburban New Jersey band has focused on refining its stately approach to low-key and meticulous songcraft. Martin Courtney sings forever in a sort of loud whisper, his modest sentiments about domestic life and social unease supported by soft harmonies and a sympathetic rhythm section that seem to slope outward like some wide valley floor. Around those words and in the spaces between them, the electric guitars of Courtney and Julian Lynch wrap like intricate vines, sharing an intimate chemistry that only they understand. Real Estate manages to mix the guitar heroics of The Grateful Dead and Television with the preternatural melodic ease of The Zombies, all with an effortless grace that rarely draws attention to that feat itself. They are a post-millennial anachronism, then, wonderfully out of time with their surroundings and perfectly in tune with their songs.
The last two years threatened to upset that enviable balance: In 2016, Real Estate dismissed cofounder Matt Mondanile, citing creative difficulties and conflicting schedules. (A year later, they revealed allegations of sexual misconduct against him.) They recruited Lynch, an old pal and pop impresario in his own right, to step into Mondanile’s lead guitar role just before shipping off to Los Angeles to record In Mind, their fourth album. If anything, the change simply strengthened Real Estate, with Lynch’s guitar tone pushing a bit harder and keyboardist Matt Kallman stepping more into once-open spaces. Having left New Jersey and New York City for an idyllic Hudson River town, Courtney deploys poignant images from his daily existence—the sound of crickets, the fading light on a ridgeline, the river reflecting the sun—to consider questions of contentment and aging and nostalgia. The songs crackle with that same perfect warmth, simply given renewed energy from fresh elements. On In Mind and on stage, Real Estate remains one of its generation’s best indie rock bands, in spite of and because of the fact that it insists on sounding like nothing but itself.