Mid-October is a perfect release date for New Jersey jangle-rock quartet Real Estate’s sophomore effort, Days, an album so autumnal in its mood, tone, and overall sound that listening to its laidback, poppy numbers can be equated to falling backward into a pile of freshly raked leaves. A much more cleanly recorded album (due in part to the production skills of Kevin McMahon) than the band’s already excellent 2009 self-titled debut, Days comes remarkably close to fully fleshing out the promise exemplified on that album.
Beginning with its vintage, 1960s-style cover artwork, the album evokes a sort of blissful nostalgia, transporting listeners back to a time when experiencing the delights of pop music was far less complicated and less subject to fleeting trends. The first words spoken on Days are “Back when we had it so easy, I would surrender completely.” A tribute to simplicity can be found in the opening track’s title, “Easy,” a lovely ode to leisure, friendship, and the outdoors. The lyrics lack complexity, but pack a whole lot of emotion into a minimal space: “I built a shelter of green leaves in the sun/Around the fields we run, with love for everyone.” This yearning for the pastoral runs throughout Days, and the album lives or dies by whether it holds true to its mellow, thoroughly evocative format.
Following the briskly paced “Easy,” the more measured and meditative ballad “Green Aisles” establishes an effective the-suburbs-as-grocery-store-lanes metaphor that never comes off as preachy, and features some of the band’s most dreamy instrumentation to date. Lead single “It’s Real” is also a stunner, presenting a wordless chorus so catchy that it all but dethrones Vampire Weekend’s “White Sky” from its position as king of “Oohs” and “Whoas” in place of a lyrical passage. Speaking of wordless, even the entirely instrumental “Kinder Blumen” serves as a pleasant intermission after the first three tracks, demonstrating that, even without vocals, Real Estate can still turn in a truly memorable, intimate performance. Nearly all of the band’s key players contribute their vocal talents throughout Days, so it’s difficult to designate any one member as the frontman (though Martin Courtney gets the official billing), and their expertly balanced vocal arrangements come close to capturing the magic of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys without sounding too dated.
Following “Out of Tune,” a groovy, surfy nod to the uncertainties of youth, the second half of Days isn’t quite as strong as the first. The rhythms aren’t as likely to become engrained in your brain, and the songs tend to blur together. That said, the album’s 10 songs manage to both hold up well individually and amount to more than the sum of their parts, and it’s an album capable of entrancing its audience within a calm mindset free from unnecessary ties to genre-snobbery. As the final line of album closer “All the Same” smoothly and succinctly summarizes: “I know it’s hard, but you’re still with me.”