Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary & LP2

Sunny Day Real Estate were a –  “best kept secret’ for many years, especially in these parts of the world. It is interesting, then, to see the attention they are now getting and the level of cult fandom they have achieved. I first came into contact with them in the mid –  “90s when a friend returned from Seattle raving about this amazing band he had seen. Dodgy name, I thought, but pretty soon the CD had circulated around town and everyone was sold on them.

With the re-release of their first two albums – with the original lineup of Jeremy Enigk, Dan Hoerner, William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel – time also gives us the opportunity to put them in the context of the times. Their debut Diary was released in 1994 and it stood out from the prevailing winds of grunge by incorporating the quiet/loud dynamics patented by the Pixies (and taken to the masses by Nirvana) and more intricate and dexterous musicality of indie and the post rock stylings of bands like Slint who were stretching punk rock’s possibilities.

Diary contains one of the band’s best known songs in Seven, with its landslide rhythms and the incessant riffing of Hoerner. Each member of the band brought their own signature style to the album. Goldsmith played every beat with manic intent while Mendel was almost the antithesis, coaxing and massaging the notes out of his bass. Seven personifies their early songs with the stop/start dynamics and Enigk’s voice reaching into the stratosphere when he strains and sings, “You’ll taste it, you’ll taste it, in time.” It’s a glorious moment.

The rest of Diary has its moments of greatness, none quite matching Seven and for that matter In Circles. The song with the eternal riff that circles and squeals until the verse brings relief, the calm before the chorus. SDRE pull back slightly for the gentler waters of Song About An Angel, add some metallic crunch to the Pumpkins-like 47 and add some wonky sideshow piano on Phuerton Skuerto to prove they weren’t just angst and bombast.

Looking back 15 years later, it is impressive that on Diary they could bottle and maintain their tension across the whole album. They seemed to be giving so much in each song, something most bands struggle to master in just one song.

The relative success of Diary meant touring became a priority and eventually a chore to some members of the band. Enigk in particular struggled with the lifestyle, culminating in him experiencing a –  “religious explosion’, contributing to the dissolution of the group. Thankfully they managed to scratch together some existing songs and wrote a bunch more that became the basis of LP2 or as many refer to it The Pink Album.

LP2 is a superior example of what SDRE were capable of creating, in that it strips back the layers to reveal the essence of their sound. From the opening lullaby notes of Friday there is a greater sense of calm and maturity. They sound more comfortable in their skin. The screams and exultant wails of Enigk are still there, but they are more controlled, settled and tamed.

The melodic guitar playing of Hoerner rises to the surfaces on LP2. His mastery of riffs that just fall into place and work so perfectly with the other musicians is magical to listen to. Theo B twinkles and has a chiming quality that sounds effortless. His clever shifts and changes in 5/4 betray the post rock influence of bands like Slint and Fugazi, showing that SDRE was unfairly lumped in with the so-called grunge movement. They offered quite a different emotional feel to those other bands.

Enigk made up a lot of the lyrics during the recording of LP2 and many of his words are hard to grasp the meaning of. This isn’t a bad thing, as it turns the spotlight onto the music which has the ability to paint a million shades of meaning with its time signatures and contrasts. Iscarabaid is schizophrenic and at times queasy as the verses snake along. As the chorus crashes in the fog lifts and the mood shifts to a determined rallying cry.

Though SDRE went onto release further albums with different members (all worth checking out) it is Diary and LP2 that remain closest to the hearts of their fans. Inspiring and instilling passion in the audience is the much sought-after Holy Grail for bands and SDRE certainly achieved that.

It was evident in the way we hunted down their music in the –  “90s and the level of excitement that has been generated by the 2009 reunion of the original band. Great music never dates and Sunny Day Real Estate still sounds as vital and invigorating as ever.

The Diary and LP2 reissue is out now on Sub Pop Records.