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Real Estate faces the difficult problem of what comes next



As much as I like their songs and their overall sound, I'd hate to be a member of the young New Jersey band Real Estate.

In late 2009, the quartet followed a string of singles with its self-titled debut album, a woozy collection that softened vibrant melodies and charming hooks with high treble, a little static and a dab of reverb. With tracks called "Beach Comber," "Pool Swimmers" and the epic drifter "Let's Rock the Beach," the music sounded like a summer of sunburn and air conditioning, of sleeping in to stay up late.

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney indeed wrote and recorded many of the 10 songs found on his band's debut during the summer of 2008, after returning from college in Washington state. "I had just graduated from college," he told Neon Musical Insight after the songs were finally released, "and was living home at my parents' house and just soaking in those feelings of nostalgia."

In the past several years, a load of large stories in major media outlets have pointed at the economy and the attendant migration of fresh college graduates back to their parents' roost to figure out their lives or financial futures. "Without better budgeting skills, however, she could easily end up having to stay in her childhood bedroom," Tess Vigeland wrote for The New York Times in March about one such graduate, in a story that noted an estimated 80 percent of recent alumni summarily head back home.

These statistics matter because they emphasize Courtney's plight as a songwriter: He's just another dude who wrote some songs one summer at his parents' place because his penury didn't give him anything better to do. "What you want is just outside your reach/ You keep on searchin'," Courtney sang at the start of his band's debut. Turns out, the world found him. Though they began innocently, and as a product of the rest of the world's apathy for Courtney, those tunes became much more as soon as a label heard them, put them out and hired a publicist. Suddenly, Courtney became an artist in demand, someone from whom the world now expected something. Especially in these hyper-wired times, it's hard for the songwriter not to be changed once the world has heard the songs.

To wit, in the same interview, Courtney talked about how the band used to hope anyone would write anything about their songs; by the end of 2009, he'd been interviewed by The Village Voice, extolled by Pitchfork Media and reviewed favorably by Jon Pareles at The New York Times. His mom, he admitted cutely, would email him those reviews, no matter how hard he tried to avoid them. "I'll end up getting them and read through. It's definitely cool and exciting," he said.

Last year, Real Estate issued Reality, a sleepy six-song EP that delivered more of everything there was to love on Real Estate. During "Younger Than Yesterday," Courtney lazily sings, "It takes all summer long just to write one simple song/ There's so much to focus on." Some of these tunes were older than those on the debut, but, as he has said, they were all part of that post-collegiate reckoning. They're also the end of that era, in a way, meaning that Real Estate now has the unenviable task of answering a record that was made without expectations and in a very specific time, place and mood that—after success—can never be replicated.

It's the same problem that Bon Iver's Justin Vernon faced when an album he made mostly in his father's Northern Wisconsin cabin after a bout with breakups and illness sent him into isolation. He followed that very successful record with an album that changed the parameters of his sound and his writing. Courtney has that option now, too; if he doesn't take it, I'm sure that—given this economy—The New York Times will soon enough need an anecdote about the college graduate who moved back in with his parents a second time.

Real Estate plays with Dent May and Andrew Cedermark Monday, July 11, at Local 506. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show are $9–$11.

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