Atlas, the new album by New Jersey’s Real Estate, arrived through Domino on March 3rd 2014. A triumph of highly evocative, perceptive songwriting and graceful, precise musicianship, Atlas carefully refines, and ultimately perfects, the brilliantly distinct artistic vision that made its predecessors Days and Real Estate so beloved.
The most collaborative Real Estate record to date, Atlas was written by Martin Courtney, Matt Mondanile, Alex Bleeker and Jackson Pollis while cruising through the Arizona desert and during a presser in Madrid, in a practice room in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and in an attic in the band’s hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey. It was recorded in the summer of 2013 in Chicago with Tom Shick (Sean Lennon, Low, Cibo Matto) at Wilco’s loft studio where new member Matt Kallman (formerly of Girls) joined the fold on keyboards.
Over the course of five years of collaboration and friendship Courtney, Matt Mondanile and Alex Bleeker have honed a masterfully focused aesthetic feel and unique sense of atmosphere in their work, a kind of subtle American impressionism that belies their relatively small discography. Theirs is a subtly inimitable sound that achieves a unique timelessness in its assured identity. Nevertheless, Atlas does not represent a resting on the laurels of Days.
“We wanted to make a cleaner, more well-rehearsed record that reflected the way we’ve come together as a live band over the last few years”, explains Courtney. “Basically we wanted to make a better record than Days without changing the general structure of who we are as a band.”
The songs of Atlas still unfurl in iridescent, warm webs of Courtney and Mondanile’s guitar, they’re still anchored by Bleeker’s nimble bass and they’re still patient and deliberate – ebbing and flowing, frequently building to moments of euphoric release in a way that feels perfectly organic. Likewise the band’s searching, human songwriting still illuminates the quiet, important moments of life in exquisitely minimal language.
Intimate and spare, these ten new songs unfold as one impossibly warm, enveloping suite – conjuring quiet, late-night drives down wooded highways, rural rambles with friends (and maybe a love interest) on the sunniest afternoons of the year, and hazy summer evenings spent alone, thinking back to those times and the people who were with you for them. You can catch glints of Galaxie 500, Little Wings, Luna, Neu, Nick Drake, and Pavement, and also the art of Fairfield Porter, Milton Avery, and Albert York. It’s precise, taut and uniquely American, cut through with a melancholia that can feel variously heartbreaking and newly wise.
The record’s beautiful cover shows sections of a mural by a Polish artist named Stefan Knapp that hung for more than 30 years outside a department store in North Jersey that went under in the ‘90s. For a time it was regarded as the largest mural in the world. The band grew up a few minutes away and spent years driving by the abandoned building and its monumental painting. This vivid, nostalgic image, now lost, goes someway to explaining the concept of Atlas in the way it explores time, growth and change.
“I was trying to write more about where I was at in my life at the time”, explains Courtney, “which inevitably led to thinking about my future and where I would like to be. Thoughts of wishing to move away from the city and have a life for my family similar to the one I had growing up. It’s a little more uncomfortable writing about your present, a little more personal. The title of the record is meant to convey the idea of these songs as a personal road map for the future. I like to think of this record as an object that can be used and looked to for guidance and reassurance, at least for me personally.”