Ever since Real Estate’s 2009 self-titled debut, the Brooklyn-based quintet have been reliably serving up intricate jangle pop arrangements steeped in sentimentality. Coming to the fore in the heat of the late 2000s indie-surf revitalisation, their synchronisation of melodies through lush, chorus-driven soundscapes has garnered a faithful fanbase whilst pushing them to the precipice of mainstream acclaim.
Adversity struck, however, following the release of 2016’s Atlas, when the band were forced to excise lead guitarist Matt Mondanile from the group for what was later revealed to be allegations of his mistreatment of several women. Julian Lynch, a former high school friend and co-collaborator on other projects, stepped in and, as their polished fourth LP In Mind (2017) showed, the band appeared uninhibited. The Main Thing sees Real Estate consolidate their sound yet again whilst wading deeper into psychedelic pools previously only hinted at.
This psych sensibility greets you from the get-go on album opener “Friday”. Like Beck’s Morning Phase (2014) days, heavily phased guitars and reverb-drenched piano and percussion help contextualise Martin Courtney’s laments in limbo; “If there is a point to this, it’s something that I must have missed”. The chorus hook feels familiarly stirring amidst the layered vocals. Lead single “Paper Cup” goes in a contrary direction, using synth strings and lead guitar licks that hook you in a more jovial light. Whilst still addressing a deficiency of personal development, its perky percussion and Sylvan Esso’s guest vocals make it the bounciest song of the lot.
“Gone” treads a similar psych path to the opener but with more recognisable idiosyncrasies from the quintet. Jangly strums and high note hammer-ons pair with more accessible vocal melodies that stand tall as the song plunders down its chorus scale. It’s a splendidly hallucinatory listen and though “Falling Down” tries to build on this psych pretext, it falls short from a rhythmic restraint that leaves it feeling too laconic and devoid of energy outside of the lead guitar hook.
As the album builds, Courtney and co. relax into their foundations of sweet indie pop. “You” is a beautiful ballad where the vocals ride the waveforms of the arrangement, with lyrics urging his child to bask in their youthful innocence before maturity arrives; “Just dream your time away, I see no better use for it, for soon you’ll be awake, then you’ll have to get used to it”. “Silent World” imparts similar sentiments but is less balanced compositionally. The title track adds another summer jam which nails the stunted rhythm prevalent on In Mind. There’s a wistful mood throughout which is underpinned by an infectious lick that evolves into a standout solo from Lynch.
As they’ve been in the past, Real Estate are at their best when melding indie-pop with a rose-coloured yearning for the past. “November” picks up the pace with a toe-tapping cadence that soars into an unrequited catharsis of a chorus evoking a telepathic attraction; “Oh did you feel that too, you know it was always you”. The use of wind and strings to gently affect flutters of feeling is emblematic of the nuanced class of the songwriters. There’s a touch of melancholy tied into “Procession” that describes a deeper resentment for how things once were. As the bass and guitar waltz, Courtney’s melodies in the verse tease at a release that arrives with fulfilled satisfaction.
“Also A But” is more experimental in structure. The longest player on the record is built around a revolving arpeggio that moves through its patchwork of passages. Its chorus is one that’s completely euphoric but doesn’t detract from the disjointed nature of the song relative to the rest of the record. “Shallow Sun” arouses what its title implies through glistening psych-pop. Bassist Alex Bleeker wanders around the key, adding melodies like that of a curious child at the supermarket before its chorus kills you with a soulful thread of sadness in its release; “the days were long, when we were young”.
“Sting” and “Brother” exist as the two instrumentals on the record, the former serving as a key-based prelude to “The Silent World”, bearing semblance to The War on Drugs. The latter, however, acts as the album closer and, whilst summating the psychedelia come before it, feels lacklustre as a conclusion.
Real Estate have waded into new ground on their fifth LP. Without losing sight of the meticulously melodic jangle pop that makes them a delight to listen to, there’s deliberate instances of ethereal psych to help contextualise more melancholic themes of nostalgia. It works well in parts, but you can’t escape the fact there’s songs on The Main Thing that feel anything but. Their hook-filled tunes remain their best and for that, the record feels like a sideward stride rather than a forward one.