Music News

Sunny Day Real Estate

In 1994, back when the Sub Pop imprint still meant something, Sunny Day Real Estate released a remarkably dull album titled Diary. That's not quite the oxymoron it seems. All the components of a great album were there -- a talent for lurching guitar-driven songcraft, a cycle of detailed and earnest lyrics, and an evocative singer in Jeremy Enigk. What was lacking was a feeling that the group was speaking to anybody but itself; Enigk's enigmatic, moody ruminations were wound so tight around himself that it was hard for a listener to care about what was lurking underneath the album's thin sound. So when Sunny Day Real Estate broke up afterward, tossing the band off as just another piece of worn-out Seattle postgrunge detritus was simple enough; drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel joined the Foo Fighters, and that seemed to be that. But since Enigk underwent a spiritual restructuring that led to a beautiful chamber-pop album, Return of the Frog Queen, in 1996, the re-formed band (sans Mendel) has been on a steady path toward clarifying its songcraft and recognizing that a great, grand hook is nothing to be scared of. The result, The Rising Tide, is that terrific album Sunny Day Real Estate's always threatened to make.

It helps that producer Lou Giordano understands that what the band is after is an ever-shifting dynamic, the push and pull of complex rhythms and roiling guitars. So he makes Goldsmith's drums sound like cannonballs fired in a cathedral and turns Enigk's high-pitched voice into a truly melodic instrument rather than a banshee wail. Now that things are sounding clearer, a sense of pretentiousness pervades the album: Songs like "Disappear," "Snibe," and "Television" are epic affairs, drawn around concepts like surveillance, despair, and fate. But pretension today is just yesterday's ambitiousness, and even the moodiest moments are imbued with a graceful, slowly building magnificence and sense that Enigk is truly expressing a Weltschmerz of which he can't rid himself. In other words the band earns its bombastic sound because it needs it; without the swells and flourishes, The Rising Tide would be sodden and bleak, which isn't Enigk's goal. So when he enlists that chamber orchestra once again for "Rain Song" and tells the world to "never mind the words they waste," he sounds like he's finally settled into speaking for himself without worrying about anybody's judgment. Which is what separates the remarkably dull from the remarkable.

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Mark Athitakis