Real Life Buildings were a band. They made some songs and they played some shows. Their music impacted some people, presumably, though one wonders if that’s beside the point, if the special act is in the creation itself. With their third and final album, Ohio And West, project leader Matthew Van Asselt reckons with what a career in music entails, what it feels like when art is left behind after the people who made it are done with it. All of this was already on Van Asselt’s mind when, last year, he underwent an emergency surgery that damaged one of his vocal cords. His inability to sing afterward only compounded that thought process.
“Writing music never felt like a choice that I made, even participating in DIY never really felt like a choice,” he wrote in a statement that accompanies the album. “So it’s perhaps ironic that in that moment when my ability was really being decided for me, it felt like all of a sudden I had a choice to sit down. Coupled with the wave of gratitude and appreciation for all the music my friends were making, I really did feel good about laying down the mantle of Real Life Buildings.”
Real Life Buildings have a brief-ish but storied history, a snapshot of a New York scene that is slowly fading and shifting into something new. Across three full-lengths, 2014’s It Snowed, 2017’s Significant Weather, and now Ohio And West, its revolving contingent members have included musicians that make music as Vagabon and Crying and Gabby’s World and Told Slant. They’ve also reconfigured elsewhere, making beautifully expansive songs as Act Of and raging hardcore as Closer.
The songs on Ohio And West are contemplative and rousing, knotty and hopeful. Van Asselt continues with his fixation on markers of time — seasons and rising water lines and life characterized by movement or the lack thereof. On its closing track, he sings: “I could move to the woods and never go online/ Or I could stay in New York and never have the time/ Or I could find some way to balance everything that’s on my mind.”
That balance can be hard to find, though, and Ohio And West sounds like a constant search for what everything means and how we slot into the world we’re given: “It could be meaningless/ Or maybe meaning is derived in this way,” a chorus of voices sings on “Bitter.” “And that in itself is something to celebrate.”
Ohio And West is out 3/29 via Lauren Records. Pre-order it here.