Actual Property’s 2020 album The Important Factor by no means had an opportunity. As singer and guitarist Martin Courtney tells it, the New Jersey band labored uncharacteristically lengthy over their fifth LP in a bid to make one thing that couldn’t be dismissed as “one other Actual Property document.” A self-consciously massive assertion from a band that specialised in endearingly small ones, the album was launched simply days earlier than the pandemic introduced the world to a halt. But even with higher timing it’s exhausting to think about it may have met its lofty ambitions of rekindling the important goodwill as soon as loved by a veteran indie group whose modest guitar-pop sounded out of step with the occasions, even throughout their early ‘10s heyday.
Courtney got down to make The Important Factor Actual Property’s finest album, however on some stage he appears to grasp that he wasn’t being true to himself by forcing it. That is, in spite of everything, the identical songwriter who insisted on Days that it shouldn’t take all summer season lengthy “simply to put in writing one easy music.” And so for his second solo album Magic Indicators, written whereas separated from his bandmates in the course of the pandemic, Courtney defaulted to the extra carefree songwriting that’s at all times come most naturally to him. After pouring a lot into The Important Factor with so little to point out for it, “I didn’t actually need to assume too exhausting about any a part of the method of constructing this document,” he defined.
Courtney has by no means wanted an excuse to dwell on comforts; he’s already architected probably the most tension-free discographies in fashionable indie-rock. However on Magic Indicators, which he drafted largely at evening whereas his children slept and his spouse labored late shifts on the hospital, the great vibes function a form of protection mechanism. Amid the worry and uncertainty of the pandemic, he retreated to a few of his most secure, most sacred reminiscences of adolescence—notably of these transitional years the place he discovered the liberty to roam past the New Jersey suburbs.
“Within the basement of my thoughts, I’m on a motorcycle in 1999,” he sings on “Merlin.” On “Sneakers,” he equally reminisces on lengthy days with nothing however time to kill: “In vacant heaps with dusty footwear, we discovered issues to do.” The accompaniments are fittingly blissful, chime-forward as at all times however with simply sufficient variations to set it other than a Actual Property LP. The reverb is turned down and the vocals are pushed method up; strings and pedal steels additional heat a number of songs, whereas The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick offers some thrust behind the drum equipment, particularly on “Sailboat,” a sugary homage to Yo La Tengo’s light rippers. It’s all delivered to a hi-fi end by Rob Schnapf, the Elliott Smith producer whose presence highlights the similarities between Courtney’s droopy sighs and Smith’s personal wistful tenor.
Regardless of its overt optimism, there are cracks within the album’s dreamy facade. Courtney’s lyrics are stuffed with allusions to silent homes and empty heaps, all of which give the impression of a world that’s moved on from his reminiscences. Over the Byrds-y twang of opener “Corncob,” he struggles to recollect the identify of a childhood pal he ran round with. The extra he tries to stay up to now, the extra he’s reminded of age. A extra dramatic songwriter would possibly additional discover that dissonance, however Courtney by no means digs all that deep. Even when he’s singing about ghosts within the partitions on “Sailboats,” it appears like one other pleasantry.
Courtney’s breezy, honeyed harmonies make the document go down simple, however Magic Indicators could also be Courtney’s first album that errors on the aspect of being too carefree. He’s at all times stored his lyrics easy, however right here he falls again on so many underdeveloped “head/mattress,” “sound/round” rhyme patterns that his prose typically looks like a primary draft he by no means bought round to tightening. Perhaps he was making a degree by protecting his lyrics so plain. There are albums born of a burning have to create and specific, and there are albums that exist just because the artist had the spare time and inclination to make them. Magic Indicators by no means pretends to be something apart from the latter.
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