Nobody wake up Martin Courtney. For five or so years, he’s been ambling through life as the frontman of Real Estate, a man at peace with his bliss and uninterested in finding a way out.
The calm, earthy and delicate Atlas, the third Real Estate album, is less ambitious than its second album, Days, and somehow more heroic. Days was an argument for structure, a reminder of the sanctity of paved road from a band often accused of wandering.
But the walkabout returns on Atlas, an album of modern indie-rock lullabies on which slowness is its own reward. This band — originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey, and now mostly a Brooklyn, New York, concern — has elevated lethargy into a kind of poetry. Its guitars, by Courtney and Matt Mondanile, are forever plangent, and Alex Bleeker, on bass, provides unobtrusive propulsion. (The core band is rounded out here with keyboardist Matt Kallman and drummer Jackson Pollis.)
Real Estate has some things in common with fellow New Jerseyans Yo La Tengo, mostly in mood. But this band is about reduction, not density: It aims for maximum impact for the minimum input. Courtney’s lyrics are about emptiness and regret and the inability to neatly reclaim the past as it once was. That said, he rarely sounds too upset about it. (Bleeker sings one song here, How Might I Live, one of the album’s darkest moments, both because of the sense of purpose in his voice — relatively speaking, that is — and the slightly sinister lyrics.)
Give Real Estate credit for deriving meaning from shimmering beauty, for seeing the poignancy in the ever-present sunlight. There is no narrative arc here, no sense of beginning and ending, no resolution. As Courtney sings at the end of Had to Hear:
I don’t need the horizon
to tell me where the sky ends
it’s a subtle landscape
where I come from
— JON CARAMANICA, NY Times News Service
The Soul of All Natural Things
It has been 44 years between albums for singer and songwriter Linda Perhacs. Her 1970 album, Parallelograms (Kapp), which was barely noticed when it was released, became a touchstone for the freak-folk movement. On her second album, The Soul of All Natural Things, her aura of mystical innocence is remarkably intact. “As I awoke I heard multiple tones/a resonant hum made of layers of drones,” she sings in Song of the Planets.
At the end of the 1960s, Perhacs was a dental hygienist who lived in the Los Angeles hippie enclave of Topanga Canyon and dabbled in songwriting. One of her patients, film composer Leonard Rosenman, discovered her and shepherded her through recording sessions with top-tier musicians and an experimental streak. Her high, gentle voice, sometimes multitracked into ghostly choirs, floated amid meditative guitars and undercurrents of jazz and exotic percussion; Parallelograms itself was layered with electronic sounds. The album was a sweetly psychedelic will-o’-the-wisp.
Perhacs had little interest in stardom or touring; she kept her day job all these years. Prized by a handful of collectors and musicians, Parallelograms was reissued in 2005 and again in 2008. Daft Punk used one of her songs in its 2006 film, Daft Punk’s Electroma, and Devendra Banhart got Perhacs to sing on his 2007 album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
When she was coaxed into performing at a tribute concert to Parallelograms, she realized how many younger musicians revered the album. With encouragement from fans she has influenced, like songwriter Julia Holter, she began working on new songs, and she recorded them with producers Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price. They keep the music sounding largely organic without making the album a slavish period piece.