Monday, October 17, 2011

Fables of the Reconstruction: Real Estate

Thursday, October 13
I’m straining to not listen to the new Real Estate album. It’s been dangling out there on the Internet in its full 10-song glory for the better part of a week, and I’m dying to listen. I ordered it in late August, directly from the label, because they were offering a special two-record deal with a live recording of the same record. So I got the rush of buying but not the consummate rush of opening and listening. A week after I made the purchase, I started feeling a little lift every time I walked to the mailbox, thinking that maybe the record company might have made some kind of mistake and accidently sent it out two months ahead of schedule, or that maybe I got the release date wrong and it’s coming out today. And I check the mail everyday same as everybody else, so this little lift began to compound on itself and metastasize with the accompanying disappointment and I was positively bug-eyed by the time I got the cryptic email from that read, “A package was shipped to you.” That was three days ago. Now it’s sitting in a mail sorting facility in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Real Estate buzz machine has been heating up and making more and more noise. They’re on the cover of The Fader. Insound has videoof them jamming in studio. Some food blog has bassist Alex Bleeker talkingabout a fried chicken restaurant called Pies 'N Thighs where he worked as a busboy until very recently. And I’m going crazy, I want to listen to this album so fucking bad. I got back on Twitter after having sworn off it eight months ago, and every couple of hours I check all the band members’ feeds, and it doesn’t satisfy, only makes it worse because they’re saying things like, “May The Buzz Gods bless Real Estate on this Upcoming Album Cycle,” so I’m not only aching to get my hands on this new record, I’m desperate for these three guys from New Jersey to make it big.
Truth be told, I’ve already listened to the first single, “It’s Real,” a few dozen times since June. And I broke down a few days ago and played “Green Aisles” for about 30 seconds before I forced myself to turn it off. It sounded good, actually -- the same infectious, laid-back and dreamy pop sound as their first LP, but with far better production. Even on crappy speakers I could tell the difference. The first album was recorded in an attic, giving it that lo-fi, DIY sound that’s all over the underground these days, but the songs on it are so strong, they would still sound great if they’d been recorded on microcassette, pressed in lacquer, rubbed with sandpaper and played on a hand-cranked Victrola with a nail for a needle. When I bought it the record store clerk told me it would sound like the Grateful Dead, which of course it didn’t; nothing ever does. Except both bands seem to operate under the same laws of musical physics. Real Estate doesn’t play melody so much as suggest it, playing all around it, filling in the negative space with wisps of echoing notes and bits of loosely arranged scales. Their music is most often described as “surf pop,” which confused me at first because they don’t sound at all like the Ventures or Jan and Dean or early Beach Boys, but I paid closer attention to their lyrics and they all seem to be about the beach and dazzling summer days, and their relaxed rhythms and jangling chords feel a lot like how it feels to wander barefoot in the sand on a perfect day and sway to the sound of the waves and feel satisfied and sad that life doesn’t get any better than this.
I’ve listened to it so many times that the tunes play over and over in my head as I fall asleep at night. For months and months and months I’ve ached for more. But relief is held hostage in a warehouse 443 miles away.

Friday, October 14
When I check USPS tracking first thing in the morning it says the record is still in North Carolina. Then I get a text from my wife a little before noon saying a package has arrived. I don’t open it right away when I get home. I leave it on the bureau in the hallway while we go out to get a good bottle of wine and the makings of a nice meal. While she unpacks the groceries, I grab a knife and slice through the packing tape. “It’s a gatefold,” I say as I pull it out of the box. I lean it against my makeshift entertainment center, unopened, displayed like a work of art, and while we cook and crack open the wine and finally sit down to eat I play every Real Estate record I own – the debut LP, the Reality EP that came out in early 2009 and a handful of out-of-print singles, one of which has rough, poorly recorded versions of two songs from the LP and cost me 20 bucks.
In the story in The Fader, Martin Courtney says, “I have a lot of problems with a lot of the older Real Estate records. Especially the first one. I think it’s good, and I feel like I’m really proud of it on a certain level, but on another level I’m like, This sounds like shit.” It’s true. The EP has the hiss of a tenth-generation Dead bootleg, and while the songs have sophisticated compositions that seem to float in the room and shift shapes in the most pleasant ways, the band sounds like they’re barely up to the task of playing them. Which only makes these early releases all the more wonderful -- artifacts of the band’s rise from the Jersey suburbs to being the New York darlings of the autumn big-release season. And the more I listen, the more my anticipation for the new record grows into the most exquisite ache. One of the music blogs out there recently asked, “Can Real Estate become a top tier indie band? Do u dig the new album? Is it a lock for 'top 10' of 2k11?” I haven’t even listened yet, but I’m thinking yes, yes and yes.
When the dishes are finally done and the second glass of wine is poured, I stab my thumbnail into the plastic and split the seam. It’s a 180-gram pressing with a smooth and rounded edge. It feels heavy in my hands as I set it in place on the Dual. I run a brush across it for a couple of spins, gently lower the needle into the groove, and dim the lights.

Saturday, October 15
Midmorning and I’m still in pajamas, on my second cup of coffee, listening to Real Estate’s Days for the sixth time, grateful for every long and wonderfully miserable second of wait, confident that this is the best record of the year, by far, and hoping that this consummate rush will last and last and grow to be a classic.

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