Real Estate covers familiar territory on third album

courtesy of Domino Records

Indie rock group Real Estate released its third studio album “Atlas” on March 4. Coming off the heels of its critically acclaimed second album “Days,” the New Jersey-based band sticks to its trademark gentle style on “Atlas,” but with a new, slightly more melancholy mood.

The album does not digress too far from previous work, with Real Estate continuing to make beguiling, strangely evocative music.

“Atlas” sounds much like the band’s sophomore album, with clean, bright, electric and acoustic guitars layered gently over controlled bass lines and steady, restrained drums. Lead singer Martin Courtney’s vocals float over the instruments lightly without being breathy — it is often hard to make out what he is saying, but the sound of his voice functions almost as an instrument itself.

This formula essentially repeats itself track by track with minor variations on the album. Though Real Estate has a knack for finding new and intriguing guitar chords in every song, each instrument’s part is consistently simple. Their melodies are uncomplicated and the percussion section tends to focus on simple combinations of cymbals and light snare drums.

The sonic power of “Atlas” comes from the way the simple parts effortlessly combine into a graceful, truly beautiful whole.

But “Atlas” does have some unique qualities. Gone are the surfer vibes of their self-titled first album and the midday suburban slacker vibes of “Days.” This new album feels like the sunset after a long day.

Lyrically, “Atlas” focuses on lost love, distance, losing control and discovering oneself. This sounds like a recipe for pretentious rambling, but the lyrics are strikingly touching.

“Toss and turn all night/Don’t know how to make it right/Crippling anxiety,” sings Martin Courtney on “Crime.” These straightforward and eloquent words fit the melancholy vibe of the album quite well.

Real Estate produces dreamy music, but “Atlas” is neither a fantasy nor a nightmare. A lonely daydream, the album seems to wander empty landscapes, gently looking inward and moving on. The album drifts without a clear narrative structure, without beginning or end.

“I don’t need the horizon to tell me where the sky ends/It’s a subtle landscape, where I come from,” are the lyrics of “Had to Hear.”

At 10 songs and just under 40 minutes long, “Atlas” is a short but stimulating listen. Though seemingly simple, the album feels lovingly crafted with each song providing a slightly different emotion and sound while combining to form an excellent, cohesive body of work.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 5 print edition. Peter Slattery is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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