Music Reviews
In Mind

Real Estate In Mind

(Domino) Rating - 8/10

The beauty and the banality of the everyday will always be the focal point of any Real Estate record. Naturally, the course life takes can either disrupt or enhance what are essentially long stretches of time-sucking triviality, and it’s not as if the now bi-coastal band are really too concerned with giving added preeminence to those life-changing moments we cherish and seek. Things don’t change too much even in the intervening periods that can mark some definitive change, but what we’ll essentially go back to is that warm feeling of comfort and normalcy.

Surprisingly, a number of impactful events have come close to altering the outcome of Real Estate’s future on their fourth full-length effort, In Mind. The sudden departure of Matt Mondanile does reshape the band’s range and ability to explore within their rigid song structures, and despite lead singer Martin Courtney underplaying his departure, it does take them into a new phase they’re not entirely comfortable with. Courtney has also been a father since not too long after his first solo effort Many Moons, a life event that has been, and continues to be, an indirect source of inspiration. But he often seems more interested in divulging on the minutiae occurrences, and likes to ruminate on the constant debates that sometimes don’t amount to much.

“I woke up Sunday morning / back where I belong / the chorus interrupts / I sing to serve the song," Courtney muses as if he’s trying to come up with the proper meter to his song pattern on Serve the Song. And though at first it sounds like a self-referential guff, it actually provides a genuine glimpse into his creative process. This is something akin to a natural still life painting in songform, where Courtney reflects on how he’s devoted to nurture his craft for others and not just himself. He later ponders "When does one thing ever end and the next begin?" on Same Sun, another moment on the album where Courtney reflects on the coincidental parallels that exist within his own body of work, even referencing the song Green River off of their self-titled debut album. And he does have a point; even though all those years have passed he still regularly thinks about lounging in the sun.

But Courtney isn’t just sticking to the same script. He’s always enjoyed how Real Estate is a truly collaborative project, and though it seems as if he guides the vessel with considerable ease the songs would also greatly suffer if they were wholly dependent on his attractive, though sometimes meager chord play. There’s a good reason he enlisted artful folk arranger and ethnomusicologist Julian Lynch to help sculpt the more convivial approach of In Mind, one that underlies a more optimistic frame of mind even if his guitar playing is faintly unorthodox. From the fuzzy way-wah bridge of Serve the Song to the soft and gentle swing of Holding Patterns, the band is taking great strides in diversifying their musical palette even if it primarily coalesces and not expands on their established personalities.

It also seems as if Courtney is coming back full circle, since many of the arrangements on In Mind, especially the trebly surf guitars, hark back to the shipwrecked mood of Real Estate. But the production has changed considerably since those still-nascent days: the loungy and romantic bossa nova of Time has a spacious, but also very modish essence that could give a half-light ambiance to a speakeasy or ease up a sociable bonfire. Conversely, the immaculate jangle and four-part harmonies of Two Arrows, including its bemusing outro, have shadings of 5th Dimension-era The Byrds. Even the margarita-sipping, Touch of Grey on tramadol Diamond Eyes is the kind of lightsome and purposely soppy jam that’s expected of a band that likes to take it easy when things start to get too serious.

A lot of In Mind revolves around one’s connectedness with self and others, where Courtney has come to discover his current place in life even if some apprehension still lingers. He comes to grips with his environment on near-single Stained Glass, as he wonders if he’s lost touch with his more careless self ("And I know there’ll be a day/ when I have to go away”). As banal as it may seem, this is Courtney’s way of communicating with those who also fill themselves with too many notions and ideas in solitary contemplation. But there’s a good reason to leave the house once in a while, in his case being the undeniable chemistry he shares with his bandmates. To many it may seem as if they’re simply writing new and more challenging counter-melodies or melodic parts, but for Courtney it makes all the difference in the world.