On Real Estate’s previous albums—an endearingly woolly self-titled debut; the excellent, vibrant follow-up Days—the balance between offhand and methodical was delicately maintained. Atlas, the New Jersey band’s newest effort, too often tips to the “offhand” side of the scale. Despite some strong material, the album is ultimately too light to stay grounded, too loose to stick.
The record starts with the promising “Had To Hear,” an aching track featuring tightly interweaving guitars by Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile. It’s classic Real Estate: buoyant but grounded, hazy but full of moments that snap to life. “Talking Backwards,” with its steadily chugging drums and early-R.E.M. guitars, is similarly spry, reminiscent of the creative songcraft and musicianship that drove Days.
Otherwise, Atlas simply floats by. This is, of course, not an inherently bad thing; bands like Wilco (which lent its studio space for this record) excel at creating memorable songs that live and die by their dreamy arrangements. Atlas needs more of those memorable songs. The midtempo “Primitive” is typical of the record’s lesser tracks: It ambles along with flat production and little personality. With more songs like “Talking Backwards” and “Had To Hear,” the record could have made more of an impression.
The Real Estate of Days was eager to take the listener off guard, to show off its ample musicianship through tunefully off-kilter songs. In contrast, the band that made Atlas seems to be hesitatingly wondering what to do next. Here’s hoping it’s something surprising.