Real Estate Daniel cover

Real Estate – Daniel (Domino)

Real Estate. What a boring name for a band, really. It seems like it was intentionally created to make people yawn and become ennui-ridden. Which is awesome because the world has a lot of uplifting and energizing music acts. Tired, mediocre, and wet-blanket suburban community admirers also must have their own heroes who could sing about their tedious mundane issues.

“How could it ever be the same? / Yeah, this is weird, you’re not insane”, sings front Martin Courtney in the opener ‘Somebody New’ and continues in the following ‘Haunted World’: “An unfamiliar place / With a familiar song”, predicting in advance all possible claims from music critics. That also echoes in the music video for ‘Water Underground’, at the beginning of which drummer Sammi Niss asks: “Why does that sound familiar?” Once indie darlings of the 2010s, in the last decade Real Estate have experienced the common fate of almost every Pitchfork Festival alumnus from times of its golden era — some critics finally found out that their new music is boring and labeled it as repetitive and evoking musical deja vu. Surprise-surprise, as they say. The true slackers always knew that and enjoyed it.

Yes, the solo works of Courtney and their bassist Alex Bleeker might sound a bit more fresh and intricate against their background, but we love Real Estate for their reliability, constancy, and consistency in delivering the same level of wistful and routine surf- and a bit psychedelic soft rock. Some bands don’t need to change, and they don’t have to. Well, maybe just a little. Which we see on Daniel. Thanks to the album’s namesake and Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning producer Daniel Tashian, their sonics became even more polished and meticulously ordered, with a subtle touch of pedal steel twang. Their sixth record feels like an essence of everything they have done by now: ‘It’s Real’-like catchy hooks with jangly guitar riffs, ‘Paper Cup’-tipped dreamy and psychedelic arrangements, and just hypnagogic indie pop in the vein of ‘Talking Backwards’.


Every element of the past, of their almost two-decade-long history, is here, pathologically neatly arranged on shelves. ‘Somebody New’, ‘Haunted World’, and ‘Water Underground’ are familiar mellow, tedious, and mediocre (in a good way) Real Estate with a pinch of Vampire Weekend’s carelessness and Girls’ spontaneity, as we know them. After the first third of the record that shows their fans that all important details of the familiar sound are in place, there are further shifts towards bolder and more adult-like sonics. ‘Flowers’ mixes barely audible new wave elements with sprawling-landscape guitar solos reminiscent of The War on Drugs, ‘Interior’ delivers an almost exact replica of The Beatles’ mood, dried ‘Freeze Brain’ supplies krautrock-ish drum and guitar parts, ‘Airdrop’ adds some Future Islands-indebted synths, ‘Victoria’ evokes Kurt Vile’s vocals, etc. So, it’s hard to say that they didn’t make any changes.

We won’t find here indie pop hits like ‘It’s Real’, ‘Talking Backwards’, or ‘Darling’. They didn’t make another ‘April’s Song’ that became one of the most memorable indie standards of all time. However, they have made a lot of improvements to their sonics, from more sophisticated sparks of idle twang and way more weightless psychedelic sunshine to sparse plucks of synths and convex and cavernous drum parts. On the surface, it could make an impression of a monotonous and, in their words, “all the same” repetition, but what sounded laid-back, superficially, spontaneously, and just sunny before, here is systematized and categorized with the precision and scrupulousness, I would even say, of Charlie Kaufman’s characters. What is it if not a sign of growing up and professional growth. 


Releasing the super successful Days and then Atlas at times of surf rock revival and The Drums rising, they parted ways with guitarist Matt Mondanile in 2016 amid sexual misconduct allegations. While he devoted himself to his project Ducktails and focused on addressing destructive behavior, they began to experiment with more lush and eclectic sonics on In Mind and The Main Thing. From simple, vague, and questionably short lyrics that consisted of clichéd lines like “stay with me,” they have progressed to more complex, pensive, ironic, surrealistic, and thoughtful songs comprising breaking the fourth wall, witty guitar lines, delicate touches of electronics, and a more diverse range of instrumentation in general. And Daniel is their step back and forward at the same time.

Returning to more basic and reserved sonics, they managed to sound more confident and distinctive, while keeping it… yeah, on the same level of unremarkableness and boredom. In a good way.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.