Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary

diary I’ve had this CD since the beginning. One night on MTV I saw the video for the first song of this album, “Seven,” along with Tool’s “Sober,” and in both cases that was all I needed to know to go buy the CDs immediately. I’m still huge fans of both bands, though Tool hasn’t done anything worthwhile since Salival and Sunny Day Real Estate had the good sense to quit a second (third?) time after 2000’s uninspired The Rising Tide.

I digress. The point is this album and I go back to my senior … okay, I just realized that a lot of what I’ve written so far is wrong. Because this album came out in 1994 and Tool’s Undertow came out in 1993, which does match my memory. Okay, so the real point is that this album and I go way back. Let’s leave it at that. And I’m revisiting it now because it’s coming up as a review on the Dig Me Out podcast, which is a great podcast that reviews lesser-known albums from the 90’s (sound perfect, eh?). And, as I’ve been doing, I wanted to get my review down before I heard what they had to say.

One of the recurring themes of Dig Me Out is that it can often be a drag to sit down and apply a critical ear to an album you loved when you were much younger. It’s a rich topic about which I could write for days. Wrapped up in it are how stupid you were when you were younger and how jaded you are now. There’s the calcification of the brain and the way that, after too much music everything starts to sound been-there-done-that and the excitement of discovery is replaced with a generational nostalgia combined with bitterness as you see the music industry cyclically preparing new versions of the same product for a new generation. Or maybe it’s the fact that music is for the young and by definition what youth are listening to is what’s good. Jealousy. Bitter regret. Chain smoking to hasten the inevitable lonely, painful end.

Sorry, I’m digressing again. What hit me particularly hard about hearing this again is what I read on the band’s Wikipedia page: “emo.” I had never considered SDRE to be emo. I don’t have a problem with emo as a genre (though I hate the moniker: isn’t all, or at least most, music emotional?), but I found that the word does carry a ton of negative connotation with me, largely due to the solipsistic excesses of the bands on the very emo end of the spectrum. And once I’d read that they were, like, proto-emo, I couldn’t help but hear it. Instead of a unique band with a singer who couldn’t sing in tune and constantly sang about heartbreak and misunderstandings and music written in complex song structures that ebbed and flowed in powerful ways, I heard self-indulgent lyrics, atonal screams, and noodling where I used to hear poetry, raw emotion, and meditation.

Of course, SDRE was one of, if not the, first to go here, making them still a unique band. So while I hear the youthful excess now, and Jeremy Enigk’s inability to carry a tune grates on me more than it did 19(!) years ago, I still proclaim it a great album, an important guidepost in the rock canon. This mix of quiet and loud, incomprehensible, off-key singing, and structural complexity shouldn’t work: it’s way too grandiose and should completely crumble under its own weight. But it does work. These kids pull it off. From the bombast of “Seven” to the garment rending of “The Blankets Were The Stairs” to the beautiful and resolutive (new word) unsettlingness (new word) of the album’s two closing tracks, this is the perfect album for recapturing just why 18 was such a wonderful and such a difficult age. You can listen to this and feel bitter at the kids for all of their youth and also be so happy that you’re at a point in your life where Friday night TV brings all the numbing happiness you could ever want. You can grow simultaneously bitterly and comfortingly old with this album.

– “Seven, “Song About An Angel,” “The Blankets Were The Stairs”
– “Seven,” “In Circles,” “Round,” “47,” “Phuerton Skeurto,” “Shadows,” “48,” “Grendel,” “Sometimes”
Filed Between: Sun 60 (Headjoy) and Sunny Day Real Estate
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Seven – This song has an amazing riff to end things.
  2. In Circles –
  3. Song About An Angel – Love it and it gets huge, but I wonder if the beginning is too weak to full heart. Nope.
  4. Round – Dig it, but too jagged to full heart.
  5. 47 – Great.
  6. The Blankets Were The Stairs – The chorus(?) is awesome. The bass has that sweet little melodic lick in it. A bit tough to get started, but turns out being one of the album’s best songs, if not the best.
  7. Phuerton Skeurto – And now for something completely different. It’s in 3/4 and just piano and vox. I have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, especially at the beginning. Too plunky. The only song that wouldn’t get at least “keep” under old system.
  8. Shadows – “In the shadows buried in me/Lies a child’s toy”: This line would have driven me nuts if I’d heard this for the first time now. And in part b/c it stands out b/c it’s one of the really clear vocal lines on the album.
  9. 48 – Maybe the biggest, most emo song. May I never feel like this again: “Where were you/We could have been the last time/…/Are you strong enough/Are you strong enough/Pitiful boy” sung with such self-hatred and bile…. Uff.
  10. Grendel – For most bands a song like this, which for much of the song is atmospheric, incomprehensible vocals and weird sounds on guitar over a guit/bass/drums foundation punctuated with some big builds, would be a throwaway. For these guys, though, it’s awesome.
  11. Sometimes – They end this album so well. This is one of the album’s best songs, though it wouldn’t work on a mix, keeping it open-hearted. These last two songs are two of the toughest to get on the album, and yet they’re the perfect ending for this disc.

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