For many music fans, New Jersey is synonymous with larger-than-life rockstar personalities, from Jon Bon Jovi to The Misfits’ Glenn Danzig and, naturally, Bruce Springsteen.
Yet the Garden State has an equally storied history of understated, songwriting-forward guitar pop. Like its forebears The Feelies in the 1980s and Yo La Tengo later on, Real Estate’s easygoing, wide-eyed sound pays no mind to surrounding trends. “Atlas,” released this past Tuesday, is the third LP from the quintet, which plays Neumos Thursday.
Singer-guitarist Martin Courtney, guitarist Matt Mondanile and bassist Alex Bleeker grew up together in the north Jersey suburb of Ridgewood, but didn’t officially form Real Estate until their early 20s. (Keyboardist Matt Kallman and drummer Jackson Pollis round out the lineup.)
For Courtney, who attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, this week’s show is a homecoming of sorts. Explains Bleeker, “Martin wasn’t really a songwriter before he went out to the Northwest… but wrote his first real batch of songs at the end of his time there.”
That material can be heard on the group’s self-titled 2009 debut. Acclaimed 2011 follow-up “Days” wasn’t a huge departure from the first record, but encompassed a wider array of tones and textures.
Now comes “Atlas,” recorded at Wilco’s home studio in Chicago — an experience Bleeker says offered some perspective.
“I’m not the biggest Wilco fanboy in the world,” the bearded bass player laughs, “but I acquired a tremendous respect for the way they do things. They’re older dudes, they’re with families, they’ve got so many records, they’ve suffered a few storms… but they’re completely content as people, and as musicians. They’re as close as you can get to mainstream without compromising any of their principles at all.”
Ten leisurely-paced exercises in vivid lyricism and chiming twin guitars, “Atlas” is eminently catchy but never gratuitously so, its spot-on melodies and intricate arrangements sounding and feeling downright effortless.
Whether or not it’s the album that elevates Real Estate to stardom like 2001’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” did for Jeff Tweedy and company — and it’s possible — it paints a picture of a bright, even-keeled group stretching out and settling in for the long haul.
“We’ve never thought of music as work,” says Bleeker, “but we’ve become more comfortable with the idea of being a professional band. We used to get in more petty fights on the road… but the more we’ve grown up, toured with other bands and seen different dynamics, we’ve come to understand that this is the eternal brotherhood we’ve entered into.”Real Estate, The Shilohs, Pill Wonder
8 p.m. Thursday at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $20 (206-709-9467 or neumos.com)