The Jersey Shore has gotten a lot of flak lately. Between cases of local government corruption and persistent mob associations culminating in a string of tacky ads promoting the new MTV reality show bearing its name, the Shore is more likely to be identified with gelled-up meathead “guidos” than its family-friendly beach communities.
Amidst this skewed perception of its home state, the Jersey-bred lo-fi group Real Estate has crafted a truly resplendent debut record influenced by long-lost summers spent seaside and remnants of suburban nostalgia. By relying on sunshine-tinged childhood memories for the album’s inspiration, Real Estate challenges the sleazy, media-approved image of Jersey residents, presenting a fresh perspective of the much-derided Garden State. Though subtle and subdued, the band’s self-titled album offers an impressive selection of floating-reverb tracks that are accessible during any season of the year.
Thanks to a steady increase in blog buzz throughout the year, Real Estate’s debut effort was well-anticipated by the indie-rock circuit. The band’s singer-guitarist Martin Courtney was a former member of Jersey-based Titus Andronicus before abandoning his former project’s distorted shoegaze sound for Real Estate’s stripped-down psychedelic feel.
Relying on memories from suburban summers, the band uses sundripped chords and plenty of reverb to form the record’s hazy atmosphere. With an array of song titles that allude to sandy shores — “Pool Swimmers,” “Beach Comber” and “Lets Rock the Beach,” to name a few — the band has certainly relied on its associations with Seaside Heights to help craft its debut. But upon repeated listens, it becomes clear that the record is actually a coming-of-age tale, documenting the band members’ progression from teenage Weezer fandom to post-collegiate disillusionment, and ultimately to a longing for the days of stress-free adolescence. Given the current recession, this is a sentiment to which many 20-somethings are sure to relate.
The dreamy opener “Beach Comber” sets the album’s framework, combining sunny strings with Courtney’s breezy lyrics. He outlines an unsuccessful search for self-fulfillment while on vacation, and despite the song’s wistful words, the track is still an uplifting listen. The track ends in a breezy guitar solo that recalls garage-band hits from decades past.
The low-key jam “Suburban Dogs” also grapples with a search for identity amid early-20s confusion. The song expresses a wish to return “back to sweet Jersey” in one verse, then condemns its strip-mall monotony with the breathy zinger, “They’ll run from your house and come back the same day / Suburban dogs are in love with their chains.”
The album’s remaining tracks fit the general template of reverb-induced trips down memory lane, with some cuts relying heavily on strong strings (“Fake Blues,” “Green River”) and others immersed in Courtney’s mumbled vocals (“Suburban Beverage,” “Black Lake”). At times, the record’s simplistic lo-fi progressions are a detriment, since the tracks can be difficult to differentiate from one another. The album occasionally feels meshed together with homogenous sounds molding into one another, a side-effect of the record’s prevailing dreamlike atmosphere. And by drawing artistic inspiration from their home state’s dazed seashore, Real Estate nails this one particular aesthetic, which envelopes the entire album.
Despite being championed as one of 2009’s most promising indie projects, Real Estate’s debut LP escapes the perils of misplaced hype by offering a cohesive collection of Garden State-approved, shore-inspired hits. Moving away from the Jersey Shore’s less favorable connotations, the group rebrands its home state as a suburban wonderland of past summers and fleeting youth. By focusing on the sunnier days of adolescent glory, the band offers listeners a temporary reprieve from their daily trials. With a solid, self-titled effort and an upcoming EP on the way, Real Estate shows great promise — both in its home-state and beyond.