Old School Reviews: Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary

14 08 2007

by mr. travis


Artist: Sunny Day Real Estate
Album: Diary
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: November 1993

It has become easy to dismiss the emo genre as just another extension of the teen angst set that have so often cornered the youth market, but to do so would be a disservice to the bands that came before such current hit makers as Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco. Before the man-liner and “woe is me” lyricism, emo was a means of expression within the hardcore movement, allowing poetry on wide ranging topics ranging from love to societal ills to faith to be featured over the bludgeoning rhythms that was hardcore punk. It was an interesting premise that brought with it intriguing results (though the term emo is somewhat of an obvious title considering that music should provoke an emotional response.), most of which were coming from the east coast, specifically the Washington D.C. region where Ian MacKaye (leader of the bands Minor Threat and Fugazi) and his Dischord label began to stretch the sound into more experimental territory. But, it was the one-two punch of Weezer and Sunny Day Real Estate that built up the foundation started by MacKaye and his east coast compatriots. Weezer’s Blue Album and Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut Diary are what would bring the sound to the west coast, expanding the audience for emo tremendously, while blazing their own individual trail as artists. Ultimately, it would be Sunny Day Real Estate who would have the greater impact, not just on emo itself (both musically and literally: Dan Hoerner would at one point be a member of Dashboard Confessional), but on some of the major rock bands of the era, including the Foo Fighters which would at one point have two members of SDRE in their ranks. Even in the general arena of indie rock, SDRE’s impact is tremendous and infallible.

Led by the enigmatic frontman Jeremy Enigk (vocals/guitar), Sunny Day Real Estate included Dan Hoener (guitar/vocals), Nate Mendel (bass), and William Goldsmith (drums), these Seattle musicians formed a tight rhythm structure perfect for the quiet wail of Enigk’s voice. The band itself would go through numerous rock clichés, they would break up numerous times, their lead singer would find religion, while numerous infighting caused internal tension. But, they were also known for their unusual practices: They refused to initially tour in California and they only allowed one publicity photo to be released in during their first few years together (ironically, it was a Nordstrom’s ad that featured a stand in for Enigk). Such practices would normally overshadow a band of lesser stature; ultimately it was their music that did most of the talking for them.

To look at Diary almost fourteen years on (has it really been that long?), one can instantly see the connection to the grunge movement that was popular at the time. The quartet take a lot of the obvious sounds, fuzz guitar, smaller production, while including it with the unusual song structures that would become connected with indie rock and emo by extension. Enigk’s voice is a little rough at times, but it works as an instrument within the band (his voice would become more powerful as the years went by, which worked since the band became more arena-ready as time went on). Hoerner is excellent as a backup singer, bringing a call and response tactic that would become cliché after bands such as Thursday and Thrice would mine this well ad nauseaum. The rhythm section of Mendel and Goldsmith is excellent keeping the pace as the band shifts from slow to fast usually in the space of a single song. It’s no wonder that Dave Grohl sought them out for the Foo Fighters, any lesser rhythm section would be hard pressed to keep the band from falling apart.

Like most great albums, Diary takes a number of listens before it reveals its secrets. Sure it has the visceral assault of the opening number, “Seven”, which allows for the band to reveal it’s muscular strengths and melodic tendencies, but instead of following it up with another up-tempo song they come back with the murky “In Circles,” one of the best numbers on the album. One of the charms of Diary is that it has a “what’s next?” feel to it, one can never really guess what will come next either within a specific number or song to song. At one point, the band can sound quiet and meditative as in “Song By an Angel” before exploding into pure white noise both within the number and in its follow up, the excellent rock of “Round.” Elsewhere, the short, but excellent piano ballad of “Phuerto Skeuerto” brings even more diversity to the proceedings, allowing Enigk to show his strengths as a vocalist. But, don’t get too comfortable, for the next number “Shadows” explodes with tension, while even in its quieter moments, Enigk’s uneasy voice brings uncertainty to the proceedings.

Such an album may be rare in emo today, but at the time it was positively groundbreaking for indie rock in the 90’s. Even today there are still some bands that continue along this path owing much of their sound to SDRE. While emo continues to become the modern equivalent of hair metal, one should take solace in knowing that bands such as Fall Out Boy could very well be gateway bands to some of the greats, just as Blink 182 or Creed were entry level bands for better contemporaries or predecessors. Those looking for a place to start should look no further than here.



One response

4 06 2008

LP2 is better.

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