Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Real Estate, as a band, just in general. This live LP is now out of print, but you can still buy their great self-titled album. Listen to "Snow Days," and read Schnipper’s thoughts on it after the jump.
Just after I left a bar at 3:30 Sunday morning, I was walking up the street to my house, and on the corner, in front of that restaurant with the glass windows that I can't remember the name of, was a woman of about 45 hula hooping. She had two hula hoops, one around her waist and one around her wrist that she transferred to her other limbs. She saw me looking at her but didn't stop or particularly acknowledge me. I kept going home.
Other things that happened to me this week that do not involve me or any of my loved ones dying or being maimed in as a direct or secondary result of a giant, absurd, completely bewildering earthquake:
-I watched the Jets win their second playoff game. Talk about improbable. The audacity of hope! I subsequently read as many articles as possible about their opponent’s, The Chargers, field goal kicker, Nate Kaeding, who missed all three of his tries. This eventually led to a rabbit hole, where I ended up playing a fairly difficult to master field goal kicking computer game on ESPN.com. I ate pizza and jellybeans while watching this game, also had a bunch of tea and put whiskey in one of the glasses.
-I saw Gang Gang Dance play new material on Friday night. They had two different spirit guides, one man with a flag who has been waving it consistently behind or beside them at shows for the past year, and another non-gender-specific person in a mask doing forward rolls. Lizzi Bougatsos, their singer, gave the same adlib she did about a year ago, about imagining that you are in the Caribbean with a drink with an umbrella in it. Brian Degraw was wearing a Clickatat Ikatowi t-shirt, brought me back.
-I visited my friend in her beautiful art studio. It smelled like weed, as her studio-mate had just smoked some. She showed me old art, talked about the hazards of painting on plexiglass and offered me snacks. She told me how to properly search for furniture on Craigslist and told me that the vintage-looking trunk she has is actually from Pottery Barn (via Craigslist), and she seemed both proud and ashamed.
-I saw Up in the Air alone. I wanted candy but didn’t get any before, so I bought Sour Patch Kids at the theater. Thought $3.25 wasn’t so bad, comparatively. Realized I didn’t buy a ticket online like I usually do, so the money would balance. The movie made me depressed.
In between many of these things, and very consistently for the last week, starting essentially the same time as Haiti’s earthquake struck, I listened to Real Estate. Real Estate is more a band that I slept on as opposed to a band that you slept on—the initial, general and now occasional theme of this column. It’s difficult to describe the reason I mostly passed up listening—I once literally just listened to them from outside a venue, drinking a beer and talking as they played in the basement below, the lopsided sound drifting out an open window—but it’s something between over and under hype, lack of interest and a vague musical malaise (mine, not theirs). Some things simply don’t click; others, for me, are immediately lockstep. Despite the necessities of my job, I can’t claim to be that good at liking music. But I digress. Mea culpa over with, Real Estate is good.
I’ve become particularly taken with a few specific songs of theirs, specifically because of the lyrics, though not exclusively so. Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel all right? are the entire lyrics to the six-minute “Suburban Beverage.” It’s a meandering six minutes, not unfocused, but without heavy tether, an acoustic repetition leading the tread along the slow-paced path. Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel all right? It’s a mantra as much as a question. Who would you ask this to?
Much has been made of Real Estate’s suburban roots, their lack of interest in city life and the ability to overcome complacency in a post-college, slacker-enabling period in their lives. Like any homespun artist or group who finds success with an output reflective of their humble surroundings, they may begin to change. But for now, they’re still rooted in crummy recordings and a natural sheen. The band reminds me of Nirvana unplugged. I’m going to assume they are about 24 years old, which would make them eight when Nirvana’s Unplugged was released. I bought this album with a gift certificate at Coconuts in a strip mall. I can imagine them doing something similar, maybe a babysitter playing it for them and their nascent ears piquing. Years later, with a curve through Weezer and undoubtedly some straight edge time for someone, Real Estate formed with acoustic underpinnings and a desire to not do much. Their songs tread water, the lack of dynamics not a lack of interest, but the interest itself. One Real Estate song is not always particularly unique from its neighbors. Indeed there is “Suburban Dogs” to couple with “Suburban Beverage,” “Beach Comber” and “Let’s Rock the Beach.” Even “Black Lake” and “Green River,” have a special symmetry. But there’s genius in the sameness, similarity not always a sign of a lack of imagination so much as an extended thesis, which is workable when you are producing. There is something delicate in Real Estate, heavy deftness to their folk. They wander in the space just before and just after Dylan finally went electric.
I mention Haiti in conjunction with Real Estate not to compare, pander or aggrandize. There is simply nothing that has happened in some time that can be in any way as devastating as what happened to Haiti last week. It feels, for better or for worse, very possibly naively, though hopefully not stupidly, necessary to mention it. I have not ceased to live my life, nor have I completely put my own problems or setbacks in full scale with the true tragedies of those who died, were hurt or saw that same happen to their beloved. There simply is no pausing every day's pace, the usualness of most of our lives. Somewhere, though, it feels like there is some import to just furthering your own awareness and forwarding your own thoughts, if only because I truly believe—of course in conjunction with on the ground help, donations, medical support and the holistic assistance of nations—in the placebo effects of good vibes. This week, Real Estate made me feel good and I think that’s ok.