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Putting a face on Real Estate

Finding that one little sliver of something that distinguishes one blog-blessed indie-rock band from the next is getting tougher these days. Good luck explaining the differences between Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof to someone who doesn't spend 15 hours a week reading Pitchfork. Or the fine line in musical minutiae that separates Wavves from No Age from Best Coast.

Real Estate is one of those bands. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to confuse them with any number of pop-leaning indie groups. Listen to their albums — 2009's self-titled debut or last year's Days — and you may tap your feet or nod your head. But seconds after you press "play" in another artist's library, you'll probably forget all the Real Estate that passed through your ears.

Real Estate are a good band. Days is a good album. But forgetting them is an easy thing to do. In fact, that's where most indie rock resides in 2012: someplace between casual inspiration and barely distinguishable. Don't worry about it, though; the group's singer and songwriter, Martin Courtney, used to feel that way too.

"I didn't know what our identity was," he says. "Most bands have a distinct style. I couldn't see that in us."

It certainly doesn't help that Real Estate hail from the moneyed town of Ridgewood, New Jersey, where the core trio grew up together as friends but relocated to the hipster hot spot of Brooklyn, where they all now live, presumably with dozens of other blog-blessed indie-rock bands.

It also doesn't help much that Courtney's songs — as tuneful and as pleasant as "Green Aisles" and "It's Real" are — don't really rattle your brain much. This probably has something to do with the way he works: The music always comes first, and it comes easier than the words do. "When I'm writing, the meaning of the song comes together about halfway through," he says. "Sometimes I'll finish writing an entire song and I won't have any idea what it's about."

Still, there has to be one thing about Real Estate that will lead you straight to them instead of Neon Indian or whoever when you're in the mood for some new indie music. Maybe that they don't lean on their guitars like so many of their peers do? Or how about the nostalgic and affectionate way they sing about growing up, like high school didn't totally suck? Or how they never really seem to force themselves or their music on you? "We're more mellow than a lot of other bands," Courtney offers. "But it's not like we go out of our way to not rock too hard. That's just us."

More by Michael Gallucci


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