Across their previous three albums, New Jersey band Real Estate established a sleepy approach to indie rock that incorporated elements of dream pop and jangle pop as a means of crafting dainty rock soundscapes that are very sweet on the ears. In this sense, the group was relatively successful in creating some pleasing tunes that the listener could easily get lost in, but they often lacked songwriting substance beyond their pretty aesthetic. As such, although rather enchanting for the time these albums were playing, they lacked enough tangible qualities of note to really leave an impression. Given that Real Estate’s stylings have remained largely the same across their previous output, there was little reason to expect anything radically new from their newest album, In Mind, bar the fact that this is the band’s first release since the departure of founding guitarist Matt Mondanile and his replacement with Julian Lynch. However, the group’s fourth album, on the surface, is a significant step-up from their previous material, with improved compositional chops and crisper production value that brings out the brightness in the jangly guitars. Nonetheless, at times, Real Estate fall back into some of their old habits and In Mind amounts to another release that is quite heavily hinged on the blissful ambiance it creates, but the best moments on the album at least demonstrate a level of technical prowess that the band has yet to exhibit to this extent. In Mind, therefore, is certainly a step in the right direction for Real Estate, but it nevertheless displays room for improvement concerning the substance provided by the band beyond their dreamy surface.
The lead single released in promotion of In Mind, Darling, exhibited Real Estate going in the direction that would benefit their stylings massively, in that their heavenly sound is still as sweet on the ears as ever, but the songwriting is also incredibly strong. As the opening track of the album, it certainly alluded to better things for the band, being easily the best song they have laid to tape thus far in their career. The main melody of the song is provided by two beautifully intertwining guitars, with one remaining disciplined as the other flutters around to play with countermelodies and harmonies. Instantly, it is clear just how much of an improvement In Mind is from the band’s previous work in terms of the production quality, with the guitars sounding immaculately clean as the rest of the mix is left with quite a lot of space as to allow room for the dreamy synth and for frontman Martin Courtney’s reverbed vocals. Although the introduction to Darling perhaps overstays its welcome slightly, this is arguably forgiven, courtesy of the odd phrasing of the lead melodies and the rich textures that are created, all of which craft a breezy atmosphere that keeps the listener captivated with its many layers of detail. Then again, the Achilles’ heel of Darling would have to be its length, which is especially true given that the longer Real Estate drag a song on for, the closer it comes to feeling simply like some sweet sonic wallpaper. Thankfully, the succeeding two tracks, Serve the Song and Stained Glass, continue the musical high that In Mind gets off to, although they don’t quite reach the highs of Darling. The main strength of Serve the Song lies in Courtney’s vocal performance, which is far more melody-driven than many of his other deliveries, which often rely too heavily on adding to the soundscape by being laced in echoey effects. Stained Glass surprisingly defies many of Real Estate’s typical tropes, with the lead melody being noticeably more dynamic than usual, and with the vocal harmonies over the chorus evoking an Americana vibe that the band incorporate very effectively. Ultimately, each of these three opening tracks demonstrate a willingness for Real Estate to progress past the luscious ambiances they have been known to create, adding a definitive substance to these songs, both compositionally speaking and as is emphasised by the clearer-sounding production value.
However, it is rather unfortunate that, beyond these first three songs and deeper into the tracklisting, Real Estate fall into many of their old bad habits that led to much of their previous material being rather unmemorable. The fourth cut on the album, After the Moon, with its repetitious, simple melodies, shows the band, once again, being a bit too focussed on building these swirling soundscapes of jangly guitars, wispy vocals and light percussion, all of which fades far too easily into the background, especially given this song’s nearly five-minute duration and lack of a particularly satisfying structure. The next track, Two Arrows, displays practically the exact same issues, which, again, is unfortunately exacerbated by its seven-minute runtime, during which time little happens to justify such a bloated length. The group’s attempt at rationalising the song’s length seemingly comes in the form of the slightly fuzzy guitar solo at the backend of the cut, but, not only does this too go on for far too long, the fact that it is set against the same repetitive jangle pop tune that has dominated much of the main body of the song, it’s easy to have this solo simply drift off into the background too. This being said, the fact that a distorted guitar solo would be included on a Real Estate track is an interesting deviation from their usual clean, jangly tone and, indeed, this marks a heightened keenness to diversify the compositions on In Mind. Holding Pattern, for instance, makes use of a wobbly synth bass and some other synthesizer embellishments that are peppered throughout the track. Diamond Eyes certainly stands out in the tracklisting, being an unexpected excursion into a clear-cut folk rock tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album from The Sadies, especially given that its breezy vibe is reminiscent of much of the material on the country rockers’ latest album, Northern Passages. Then again, whilst such attempts to vary the stylistic scope of In Mind are refreshing, the songs themselves still occasionally drown in Real Estate’s airy aesthetic and would be much more impressive if the band consistently provided an effective amount of substance to support such efforts.
Whilst In Mind unequivocally sees many of the issues to have recurred on Real Estate’s previous output crop up once again, the band show the signs of overcoming such concerns, with the best tracks, particularly the introductory triplet, seemingly resolving these problems entirely. It should also be said that the fact that the band hasn’t suffered in the absence of their founding lead guitarist and primary songwriter is particularly admirable, with a line-up change on In Mind likely being completely unnoticeable were one to be unaware of this. As such, this album is unlikely to upset any fans, even in spite of the few risks that are taken over the course of its 11 tracks, as the sweet, almost ambient soundscapes of the group’s previous material remain. Of course, from a critical perspective, this is also wherein my salient reservation for this project lies, but the fact that Real Estate, at times, prove themselves capable of bringing this atmosphere under control as to allow room for some genuinely solid songwriting to shine alludes to better things for the band. Ultimately, whilst flawed, In Mind is a significant step in the right direction for Real Estate.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10