A sound consciously rendered in refracted sunset oranges and yellows.
Alex Denney 2009
2009, a prominent US tastemaker was recently moved to observe, is officially the year that scuzz broke. Disregarding the silliness inherent in such a statement – 2009 was also the year my mum’s favourite teacup broke; weirdly the internet didn’t grind to a halt in light of subsequent teary-eyed Tweets – this is a tricky notion to qualify. Was it Colin Greenwood’s sporting of a No Age T-shirt wot dun it for the genre? Or perceived sophomore slump in new LPs from hyped practitioners Times New Viking and Vivian Girls?
Scuzz, we’d do well to note, refers to the kind of tape-hissy, petulant recording techniques which have been fashionable among hipsters of every musical shade for the past 18 months or so now. By definition, it’s a sound unlikely to conquer the airwaves. Au contraire: lo-fi for lo-fi’s sake can be an off-putting pose, and the DIYer-than-thou approach often finds its conclusion in merited obscurity. But Real Estate’s whip-smart New Jersey quartet offers a few pointers out of this dilliest of pickles.
On first-name terms with Titus Andronicus as well as the aforementioned Vivian Girls (singer/guitarist Martin Courtney is an alumnus of the former group), the combo pairs its lo-fi aesthetic with bracing pop immediacy to create a sound as vivid as it is chimerically vague. No sonic hip games being played out here – just terrific music, sensitively arranged. It’s the good kind of nostalgic, if you will; a sound instinctively reached for but consciously rendered in refracted sunset oranges and yellows.
The band’s West Coast-ish surf allusions put them a long way from their native Garden State, but their psychedelic chimes also sound like the Brit school of 1980s nouveau-jangle as embodied by the likes of The Smiths, Durutti Column and Felt. Pool Swimmers’ ebbing guitars are the spit of Johnny Marr at his most serene. And Suburban Dogs has the dreamy, coins-in-a-wishing-well reverb of Vini Reilly transposed to sunnier climes. It’s a great lyric too: “Suburban dogs bark at slow-moving trains / they run from your house and come back the same day / Suburban dogs are in love with their chains”.
Even at their most direct (Fake Blues) Real Estate sound poignant as sandcastles on the spring tide, with an unassuming depth not readily found in beach-bum contemporaries like Wavves and Girls. They've conjured a debut well worth getting your towel down early for.