Sunny Day Real Estate

Band: Sunny Day Real Estate
Album: Sunny Day Real Estate (Sub Pop distributed the album as LP2 and it is also known colloquially as “The Pink Album,” for obvious reasons.)
Best song: “Red Elephant,” “8” and “J’nuh” are all brilliant. “Iscarabaid” is wonderful.
Worst song: None.

Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a coke machine. You can’t do it in one push, you got to rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.

Jerry Seinfeld in “The Voice,” a season 9 episode of his show, Seinfeld.

As in relationships, so go bands. Sunny Day Real Estate was a band of some import — they basically defined the second wave of emo, along with Braid. After releasing two stellar albums, the band initially broke up in late 1995/early 1996 (the timing of it all is still a little touch and go), only to reform in 1997 and record two more albums. SDRE then broke up again in 2001, with three of the members forming The Fire Theft and releasing an album and in EP across 2003 and 2004. The hot rumor now is that the four gentlemen are going to reunite once again in 2009.

I would say the breakup/reunite cycle is getting kind of tired, but once you love something/someone, it’s tough to let go. The notion that a successful band, adored by many, should pursue other interests when reuniting would bring joy to a lot of fans and introduce young people to said music… That’s foolish.

Rock bands and professional athletes overstay their welcome all too often. Bob Dylan has been making shitty records for 25 years. Pink Floyd released post-Roger Waters records and they were absolute turds. Art is hard. It’s painful and difficult to keep up the ability to dig deep to find it within an artist.

The SDRE guys made three wonderful albums, an OK fourth one and then made the Fire Theft record. Nate Mendel continues to record — if Dave Grohl actually lets people other than himself play down tracks, which I doubt, considering the Will Goldsmith incident — with the Foo Fighters. Goldsmith has spent time touring with various singers and bands (Mike Watt, 5ive Style, etc.). Jeremy Enigk has released three solo albums, the latest of which came out this week. He also tours. Dan Horner lives on a farm somewhere.

Getting back together makes a lot of sense, I’d say.

Pitchfork recently described Broken Social Scene as ” grand instrumental swells, mumbly singing, and all things guitar-y and heart-wrenching and heart-on-sleeve.” Reading that sentence actually made me think about writing up LP2. SDRE is a band that predates BSS by seven years and sound very little alike. Indeed, Enigk’s vocals aren’t nearly as muddled and Sunny Day’s rhythmic structure is considerably faster-paced. Nevertheless, it reminded me of this all-important band of my high school years.

The indie rock landscape — as I remember it, so this is all through the eyes of a high schooler — of the 1990s was eclectic and interesting. Kurt Cobain and friends had made Sub Pop a national force and the label foisted bands like SDRE onto those of us in the Midwest. Taking the fast-paced sound of first wave emo, hardcore and punk, the band mixed it with a an earnest vocal style to largely create second-wave emo. Along with Jawbreaker — called the “Rosetta Stone of emo” — SDRE helped popularize the genre in the landscape of post-grunge, Pavement and post-rock that was CMJ in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, SDRE’s confessional — albeit very veiled — lyrics are entirely hummable and melodic. Make no mistake, LP2 is not as strong a record as the band’s furious-yet-tender debut. Nevertheless, LP2 has more earnestness than you can shake a stick at. “J’Nuh” is lush and decidedly emotional, taking the swirling guitar and building it up onto a heavy riff. Enigk — again in the poetic and nonsensical way only he can made effective — channels his emo rage in the song, with hook-worthy “I’m too, well I’m to late now/Call me something at all this time” as the song falls into staccato-guitar lines.

And that’s the album. Different song styles dot the record, all fitting into the Sunny Day formula. “Friday” opens with an appegio that quickly becomes guitar streaks and Enigk platitudes (“Colliding on old photographs” is a key lyric), “8” — featured in a crappy non-Burton or non-Nolan Batman movie. You know. The one with “Kiss by a Rose.” That one. — takes quietLOUDquiet, replaces metronomic drumming with around-the-kit showcasing and perfects it. “Iscarabaid” sometimes hits the harder post-hardcore notes, but again showcases Goldsmith’s ability to carry a song. Only the chorus’ self-confessional (“Inside of me/Outside of you” begins each chorus) does the overdrive occur and it is short-lived.

Each song has a confusing lyric. Each song has a guitar line that weaves around like a bird flying deftly around trees. Each song has a drum part that can — and often does — carry the song. Q.E.D.

So, yes, SDRE has a formula. It’s such an effective formula, though, that every time I pick up LP2, I find a new favorite song. “Red Elephant” — with it’s midtempo awesomeness and romantic, but really weird “Well I’d suspect/You would come to terms/With my hand/My eyes reflect your surface very well” oddball lyric — remains my faovirte, but rediscovering “5/4” and its time signature or “8” and its rapidity or “J’Nuh” and its lyrical brilliance… That’s very satisfying.

“J’Nuh” live:

I’m not sure where to put this, as it mainly concerns the bands post-first-reunion album, How It Feels To Be Something On and it’s religious lyrics. However, one of the often-cited factors in SDRE’s breakup is Enigk’s religious, uh, awakening. Enigk found Christ during the final stages of recording LP2 and the hot rumor is that it helped break up the band.

Anyway, here’s Enigk’s letter to the fans about his conversion or his rebirth or whatever. It’s worth a read if you’re into old marketing books written by first-century Jews, paradise in the sky, so-called miracles and a teacher-then-zombie. Me? I worship the sun.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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