New Jersey’s haze-pop masters Real Estate are back with sixth studio LP, Daniel, following a near four year break. Recorded in only nine days at RCA studio in Nashville, this record is as much about the joy of creating music together again as it is to any deeper meaning within its eleven jangletastic tracks.

The band recruited Grammy-winning producer Daniel Tashian (one possible source of the album’s title) who is noted for his work with Kacey Musgraves. Perhaps the setting and production are reasons for the pedal steel on various tracks here but this is still very much an indie record.

Daniel devotes a great deal of time to pondering questions of existence, the fragility of the human experience, and the very finite reality of life. It does so while counterpointing those questions with acceptance of the vast macro reality of the universe and the great infinite of space. Motifis of handling anxiety, living presently with friends and enjoying the ride are contained within the uniformly 3-4 minute songs.

Indeed, the album’s cover art shows a hand on a telephone held up, the unseen holder looking towards the clear blue sky, flanked by skyscrapers amplifying the drama of height and distance, which in turn reflect the inconsequentiality of the person. The sky signifies a window to the great beyond, while the (tethered) telephone acts as a signal calling out for answers.

The metaphor of a signal reaching out for a response is repeated on ‘Water Underground’ (“there is a sound / like a signal between stations, it’s hard to hear”) and album closer ‘You Are Here’ (“we are all made of dust / A point in a circle / a peak in the signal”). The former frets simultaneously on how to create a song and be at ease with the process. The latter concedes that ultimately it’s not worth the anxiety but instead should be enjoyed for the in-the-now experience of living.

Sunlight also has its own role to play on Daniel with the duality of it being a bringer of optimism as well as (in the mind of the narrator) playing tricks on those wary of leaving a confined space. On ‘Haunted World’, singer Martin Courtney sings over an uptempo beat: “The sun is shining through the trees / this haunted world is killing me”. The conflict between rationale and paranoia is played out over wistful pedal steel and keys. Similarly, on ‘Freeze Brain’, an undulating synth, big drums, and trippy double vocals enhance the sense of feeling lost in a familiar place. The protagonist puts on a front: “now and then / I can pretend / the sun is shining…let some light in.” And again on ‘Market Street’ with its Kinks-y 60s beat and distorted guitars: “Things don’t seem right / bathed in sunlight.” And these back and forths play out across the record, at times happy to simply enjoy the moment (‘Interior’) or making changes (‘Say No More’) to the more romantic ‘Victoria’.

Daniel provides a pleasant listening experience. Real Estate are a low-key group and it’s reflected in the band’s song structures and recording style. There is rarely any bombastic soloing going on and the closest they get to the extraordinary is when they pass the five minute mark on the final song. The vocals almost never go beyond laidback reflections. The drums and bass serve their most basic purpose in the song hierarchy. Keys and synths add little occasional flourishes. Daniel is an album that won’t be remembered long but is a solid input into their discography and will keep fans and casual indie playlist subscribers happy.