“Wish that I was cool/wish I was surfing.” That’s how the chorus of one of the songs on Fenix TX’s eponymous album went. Back in 1999, those (in some camps) sorely missed American pop-punkers were expressing a sentiment that seems to be widely spread among the late-noughties indie/noise-pop scene. Wavves moan about surf and beach goths, The Drums owe much of their hype to whistled ode to the water sport, while in the UK, exciting acts like Spectrals and Veronica Falls have audibly been paying attention to the licks of Dick Dale & Co as well as the dusty doo-wop 7”s they draw inspiration from.
Real Estate might hail from the Garden State of New Jersey rather than the west coast, but their light-footed, introspective approach to surf rock sets them apart from their more noisy and exuberant contemporaries. The word has clearly spread, judging by the packed upstairs bit of the Lexington pub (Male Bonding are also in attendance), and the quartet look a bit nervy as they finally grab their instruments after loitering by the side of the stage for a few minutes. They needn’t have worried, however, because their so-laid-back-it’s-horizontal sound could tranquilise a raging bulldog with one bell-like guitar riff, and there are plenty of those in tonight’s set, for example in teasingly meandering opener ‘Green River’. The sound is attuned nicely, balancing the rhythm section’s smooth workings with frontman Martin Courtney and Mathew Mondanile’s guitar interplay, but more important is the fact that Courtney’s vocals are a lot more prominent than on record. On their debut album, the singing often takes a back seat, whereas tonight, Courtney & Co. prove they are capable of nailing a three-way harmony Fleet Foxes would scratch their beards at in approval.
None of the band are sporting facial hair, unless you count the five o’clock shadow on huggable teddy-bear-turned-bassist Alex Beeker’s face. The exquisitely named Etienne Duguay looks like a music teacher from two decades ago, helping out his high school jazz band. But what they may lack in stage presence, they certainly make up for in visual unorthodoxy.
In terms of audible influences, Real Estate are more than the sum of Brian Wilson and a few Budweisers too many for breakfast – there are echoes of the Red House Painters’ slow-mo indie (‘Black Lake’) and a more country Pearl Jam (on EP track ‘Younger Than Yesterday’), while the second of two new songs has a more straightforward late-80s-indie feel (think The Wedding Present) to it, which has something to do with Mondanile’s endearing but mainly tune-less crooning being worlds away from Courtney’s more measured intonation. The most striking aspect of the band’s performance, however, is the way Courtney’s and Mondanile’s guitars weave around each other, mimicking each other’s lines one minute, finishing each other’s riffs the next – and all with an ease that borders on the contemptuous. They are such a likable bunch, though, that by the time crowd favourite ‘Beach Comber’ comes around, we’d all follow them anywhere – even to the Jersey shore.
By Matthias Scherer
Originally published in issue 14 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. February 2010