Real Estate - Days


Domino Records

Last year, Beach House released an album called Teen Dream that won over critics and fans alike, proving that chill, beachy dream pop could hold its weight next to the best and biggest in indie pop and rock while still remaining true to who they were. Teen Dream found the band doing little things like cleaning up the production a little bit and bringing the vocals more to the front of the mix, which helped immensely with creating a more accessible sound. But more than anything else, it seems that it was Beach House’s discovery of their own dynamic songwriting voice that created a special place at the top of many people’s “Best of 2010” lists.

The reason why I begin with this is because I seem to have always lumped Beach House and Real Estate together in similar sonic territory. It might just be that the two bands paint the same washed-out scenes of nostalgia, beaches, and summer in my mind—the kinds of scenes that play back like old memories. Here on Real Estate’s sophomore album, Days, not much has changed in this respect. Real Estate still paints these same scenes with swirling guitars and reverb-laden vocals that harken back to the “good ’ol days” just as well as anyone else.

The album starts out with “Easy,” a mid-tempo surf track that, like its name, feels totally effortless. The verse and chorus and hook breeze by like the gentle wind on the beach and it immediately produces those feelings of nostalgia once again. Fortunately, the production has been given a nudge in the direction of clarity, whereas the vocals and lyrics can be made out noticeably better than on their 2009 debut. Other than that, instrument and production-wise, Days very much exists in the same musical framework that their self-titled debut crafted. The same emphasis of the dueling jangly guitars, which I’ve always enjoyed about the band, are still present and are very much the primary focus of the songs.

On the first single off the album, “Green Aisles,” Real Estate slows things down a little bit and delivers some great lyrics about the singer looking back at the more irresponsible, youthful times in life without regret: “All those wasted miles/All those aimless drives/Through green aisles/Our careless life style/It was not so unwise.” The lyrics and melodies of Real Estate have always had an unequivocally emotive feel to them, and the songs on Days are no exception. Interestingly, while many of their songs feature lyrics about summer, “Green Aisles” takes on the themes of autumn and gives them their own breed of laid-back October melancholy.

The third track on the album, “It’s Real,” is a real standout in that it has a great melody and will make you want to relive the sunny days of summer all over again. It’s also a great change of pace from all the hazy slow songs and it really makes me wish Real Estate was willing to change up the pace and experiment more often. Around halfway through the album, I found that my problems with Days often became more and more realized as many of the songs were hung up on some of the same problems that plagued the band’s debut album: many of the songs end up sounding similar, and the album features very little variation in terms of emotion or instrumentation. Even on other highlights like “Wonder Years,” where the band doesn’t sound too unlike The Smiths, the similarity of the songs obscures the greatness of some of these tracks.

The record’s laid-back feel is a hallmark of Real Estate’s sound, but its also probably the biggest factor that held me back from truly embracing a lot of these songs. Any senses of conflict, motion, or dynamics just are not present in Days and at many points, the players in the band appear to be in a mindless trance where they are constantly playing (and for the most part playing the same thing) throughout the entirety of each song. While I can see how this plays into the entire ethos and mindset of Real Estate, it doesn’t necessarily make for music that was great at holding my attention or providing me with something tangible to remember the songs by. And perhaps that’s the point.

Even still, Real Estate doesn’t seem to have been able to find a distinctive voice that lifts their music above the psychedelic surfer haze and nostalgia that many bands have produced for years now (the group included). After listening to Days time and time again, I was never left with melodies and words and songs, but instead that same atmospheric, nostalgic feeling that their debut album left me with. And while that is as honorable and worthwhile a musical goal as any, unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that Days doesn’t find Real Estate moving forward in a noticeable direction from their debut two years ago.

(This review originally written for PasteMagazine.com. Rating score rounded to match requirements.)


Class Actress - Rapprocher


Carpark Records

Class Actress is the moniker for Brooklyn singer-songwriter Elizabeth Harper, but this definitely isn’t her first venture into the music industry. Harper had released a solo record under her own name back in 2005, but it wasn’t until she hooked up with electronic producer Mark Richardson that her songs were really given the proper vehicle to set herself apart in the indie music world.

Class Actress first started garnering Internet buzz with wonky remixes of songs by Neon Indian and The xx, setting the stage for her EP from 2010 and now her debut album, Rapprocher. According to Harper herself, Class Actress has “crafted sensual music about tragic romance and the eternal longing for all the things you can’t have.” And as ridiculous as that might sound, I couldn’t have described Class Actress’ sound any better myself.

Like most acts that attempt to reclaim glamorous early-‘80s New Wave, Class Actress lives in a completely different era. Like Neon Indian’s first album, the somewhat lo-fi production values and vintage instrumentation never get in the way of the songs, but instead manage to stand alongside them hand-in-hand. This has to do mostly with the fact that the songs themselves on Rapprocher are just infectiously catchy. Whether its the insatiable choruses of “Love Me Like You Used To” or “Weekend,” Class Actress clearly has little interest in the washed-out vocals and melodic inaccessibility of other lo-fi acts. Fortunately, Rapprocher balances these unashamedly poppy and simple melodies with layers of analog synths and vintage drum beats that keep the album from ever being too sugary. In fact, Class Actress actually went through the pain of sampling ’80s drum hits and really gives this album the feel of something that was recorded in 1982.

Ultimately though, the success of Rapprocher hinges on the melodies, vocal delivery, and attitude of Elizabeth Harper. Considering how drastic an image shift Harper took from local acoustic guitar-strumming singer-songwriter to a sex-addicted, caps lock-loving diva, I won’t comment on her legitimacy because the truth is that she completely sells it in Rapprocher. And while Harper doesn’t quite have the charisma of idols like Madonna or even artists who’ve attempted similar image transformations like Lana Del Rey, the heartbroken melodrama of each of the songs projects itself fully in the image Elizabeth Harper bears.

In other words, Class Actress totally pulls it off. Even with the inclusion of a couple of duds on here like “Missed” (where Harper endlessly repeats “You’re gonna miss me” to the point of irritation), for the most part, Rapprocher is a tight little album full of melodramatic pop tunes dripping in ’80s loving.

(This review originally written for PasteMagazine.com. Rating score rounded to match requirements.)