Arts Desk

Off the Beach: Real Estate @ Rock & Roll Hotel

real estate

For Real Estate's Martin Courtney, returning to his native New Jersey  last summer after graduating from college may have been a regressive move, but it also turned out to be a productive one.

"I almost exclusively hang out with people from high school these days," the singer and guitarist says, echoing that common post-collegiate experience of hometown dive bars and procrastinated job searches.

But Courtney also spent last summer writing songs and jamming in his parents' basement with guitarist Matt Mondanile, bassist Alex Bleeker, and drummer Etienne Duguay, laying the groundwork for what is, little more than a year later, one of 2009's most promising new indie-pop acts in a year replete with lo-fi fast-burners. Six months after its first gig, Real Estate—which plays at the Rock & Roll Hotel tonight with Japandroids and Neon Indian—was generating buzz at the South by Southwest festival in Austin and tickling the blogosphere with woozy, summery singles. Now, the band is about to release its self-titled debut on Woodsist Records.

The pitfalls of blog-fueled, late-oughts meritocracy aren't lost Courtney, who says he doesn't expect Real Estate to break down, Wavves-style, anytime soon. "A couple months ago, that really worried me and freaked me out," Courtney says. "But due to circumstances beyond our control"—intermittent access to a recording space and, later, a problem with the finished album's test plate—"our record got pushed back. Now there’s been time for shit to cool off. I hope that now it’s less of a buzz thing and more that we’re just a band that exists."

That music critics and bloggers have covered Real Estate almost as long as it has existed has been "a little nerve-wracking," Courtney says. "It’s kind of annoying when people ask us if we spend a lot of time on the beach."

He says songs like "Beach Comber" and "Atlantic City"—as well as the band's tropical, laid-back vibe—can't be chalked up to a strategy or ethos. They're simply the result of a summer spent writing music by the ocean. Seeing his band boiled down to one-sentence narratives and minute-old labels "can be frustrating," Courtney says. "You cringe a little bit. But I’m starting to realize that some people that write about music just need something to clutch on to as a reference and to make it clearer."

Courtney says he's somewhat vexed by Real Estate's reputation as a lo-fi act—a distinction undoubtedly reinforced by the fact that several more of his high-school classmates, Julian Lynch and the guys behind the Underwater Peoples label, have also released nostalgic-sounding records that are heavy on tape hiss. "If we could record in the studio, I would do it in a second," Courtney says. The Real Estate album, out on Nov. 17, "has definitely got a demo vibe. I think it sounds good for sure, but it’s not a choice we made to sound that way. It’s just the way it is."

Real Estate performs tonight with Japandroids and Neon Indian at the Rock & Roll Hotel at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, and $12 at the door. Photo courtesy of Real Estate's MySpace page.

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  • DC resident

    "Seeing his band boiled down to one-sentence narratives and minute-old labels 'can be frustrating,' Courtney says. 'You cringe a little bit.'"


    "the band’s tropical, laid-back vibe"

    Nice that you reproduce these very narratives, Jonathan.

  • Jonathan L. Fischer

    As far as I can tell, those are neither narratives nor labels.

  • DC resident

    Are you not labeling the group's aesthetic as being "nostalgic-sounding," "tropical," and "laid-back?"

  • DC resident

    And isn't it a "one-sentence narrative" to suggest that certain songs are "simply the result of a summer spent writing music by the ocean" rather than of creative agency and a lifetime of musical development?

  • Jonathan L. Fischer

    Hold up. How Courtney feels about labels -- by which I meant genres and subgenres -- and how I feel are two different things.

    And I'm referring to the sound of Real Estate's recorded material -- all eight or so songs of it -- using adjectives to which Courtney probably wouldn't object. Maybe I should've been clearer, but Courtney's point wasn't that he's frustrated by assumptions about his aesthetic -- more by assumptions about his aesthetic strategy. Which is to say: Yes, the current material is "tropical," "nostalgic-sounding," and all that. But it may not be next time.

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