New Jersey’s Real Estate are stuck in a long, aimless summer. Across three full-lengths, the sleepy quintet have happily channelled the lethargy of a stagnant Sunday, with frontman Martin Courtney developing the glassy-eyed, trance-like vocal delivery of a stifled small-town moocher. Even their chiming, calling-card guitar lines, the drums pattering in tow like a friendly dog, feel rooted in some kind of apathy – Courtney’s vocals and the lead guitar of Matt Mondanile work together as though locked in conversation, creating a syrupy sonic mixture that’s somehow both optimistic and melancholic.
The simple prettiness of Real Estate’s music is thus hard to deny. Although their status as indie rock’s closest thing to easy listening is bound to rub some folk the wrong way (the line between suburban soundtrack and drab elevator music is no doubt blurrier for some) it’s much easier to wallow in their records than to complain about them. Real Estate material, oftentimes, is as objectively gorgeous as sunsets or coral reefs, so idyllic at its core that it’s really quite tough to dislike.
The same goes for Many Moons, Courtney’s debut solo effort. Being the band’s front man and principal songwriter, you can’t blame him for not straying too far from Real Estate territory - woozily strummed chords begin things in a similar way to their last effort Atlas, with cuts like ‘Before We Begin’ cruising along at the band’s same pastoral pace. The choruses on cuts like ‘Foto’ blossom from lower-key verses in what may be becoming a 'trademark' way, whilst Courtney’s lyrical sentiments remain just as hazy and romantic.
What makes Many Moons stand out though, other than being nice-like-Real-Estate, is how Courtney comes into his own without his band behind him. In the absence of Mondanile’s interactive lead guitar lines he turns towards more vivid instrumental backdrops – the choruses on lead single ‘Vestiges’ are kissed with wonderful, welcome string arrangements, whilst the opening movements of ‘Asleep’ ring spaciously with slide guitars. The outrageously cute title track features some rich, sugary flute melodies (clearly in lieu of Mondanile’s noodling) whilst single ‘Northern Highway’ opens with some crystalline, cascading piano. All this extra instrumentation pushes Many Moons more towards a baroque-pop realm than Courtney’s other work, the added ambition making it perhaps even easier to enjoy than a Real Estate record. The high-points culminate on ‘Vestiges’, a shimmering slice of sun-streaked pop complete with chatty, DeMarco basslines and as captivating a vocal melody as Courtney’s ever written.
Many Moons then, proves that the 'bad front-man solo project' curse isn’t particularly watertight. En-debut, Martin Courtney comes through with a record that’s as good as any he’s made with his band, and fans of Real Estate will no doubt treat it with the enthusiasm of a brand new helping from the quintet. More importantly though, those who find Real Estate more evocative of a humid waiting room than subdued suburban malaise might find Courtney’s newfound ambition too hard to resist – and that’s where he truly succeeds.
7Andrew Harrison's Score