Back in the 1990s, I remember watching MTV’s 120 Minutes and discovering a myriad of bands that would influence my own musical output and tastes for decades to come. Sunny Day Real Estate was one of those bands. I remember sitting in the living room when the video for “Seven” came on, a loose, sloppy yet proficient, melodic song that ebbs and flows from the soft pre-verse to a driving avalanche of sound anchored by Nate Mendel’s melodic bass and William Goldsmith’s drums as Dan Hoerner and Jeremy Enigk’s guitars provide a layer of distorted, melodic grime and Enigk’s voice soars above the chaos. From that moment, Sunny Day Real Estate entered my life. I had the chance to see them back in the day at The Parish in New Orleans on the Killed By An Angel tour, and I saw them recently at Furnace Fest, where I introduced my daughter to Sunny Day Real Estate live. As such, I want to take a moment and share some of my favorite Sunny Day Real Estates songs.
There are numerous songs on LP2 (1995) that I like, most notably “Rodeo Jones.” However, “Iscarabaid” has become my favorite from that album. While the story behind LP2 is fraught, the end product remains, for me, an extraordinary record. During recording, the band broke up, and, as Enigk put it in 2008, “We put no energy into the artwork or into anything. On a lot of songs, there aren’t lyrics! In a lot of cases, we never sat down to write them, because we just wanted to get it out of the way as fast as possible. So I just sang a lot of gibberish, which makes it really quirky.” The end result reminds me, somewhat, of Sigur Rós’ work or David Yew from The Jesus Lizard where the vocals serve as a direct accompaniment to the music, whether the words sung are “gibberish” or not.
For me, the lyrics of “Iscarabaid” don’t necessarily matter. I hear different lyrics each time I listen to it. What keeps me coming back to the song, again and again, is the aural soundscape the song presents. Mendel’s lulling bass lines paired with Hoerner and Enigk’s guitars during the verses work their way to a blistering crescendo for the choruses before dropping back again to a slumber-like verse. Along with all of this, the vocal layering during the verses and choruses play off of one another, reminding me, in many ways, of Mineral’s “&Serenading” or “Sounds Like Sunday.” For me, these meandering vocals, both at the fore and in the background, riffing off of one another, creates a feeling of calm interrupted by foreboding.
“Guitar and Video Games”
Again, there are multiple songs from How It Feels to be Something On (1998) that I enjoy, from the punkish driving of “100 Million” to Enigk’s vocal dexterity in “How It Feels to be Something On” to the opening of “Roses in Water.” Yet, “Guitar and Video Games” stands out. Loudwire named it the best Emo song of 1998, stating it “became an instant emo classic nearly overnight thanks to its straightforward musicality that manages to build momentum across waves of downtrodden melodies.” It contains all of the elements of a Sunny Day Real Estate song from the melodic bass to the building emotional conclusion.
I’m really not sure why I keep coming back to this song. It hits me, whenever I hear it, and the mixture of music and lyrics always cause me to pause for four minutes and take in the ride. Maybe it’s because the chorus reminds me of myself in high school and college. Instead of putting on social fronts, going out to the school dance or something like that, I’d rather hang out with friend and “play guitar and video games.” To Enigk’s question, “What if we refuse to follow the rules of fashion?”, I’d reply, “We’d be ok. The rules of fashion don’t matter because they are only superficial.” This song is, in many ways, peak second-wave emo, leading into Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and more. Yet, it doesn’t feel, for me, like a quintessential Emo song. It’s just feels like a well-crafted song that always impacts me when I turn it comes over the speakers.
Where do I start with Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album Diary (1994)? I cut my guitar teeth on Diary and Nirvana songs. I scoured the early internet for guitar tabs so I could play “Seven,” “The Blankets Were the Stairs,” “Grendel,” and the entire album. Even with all of this, the second single from Diary stands out. “In Circles” spans about five minutes, and like a lot of Sunny Day Real Estate’s songs, it shifts between soft and loud, between melodic and driving. Mendel’s bass carries so much of the song, as it does the majority of his work in Sunny Day Real Estate, and the bass becomes a focal point when I listen, the way that Mendel lays back during the verses but opens up, moving us along during the pre-chorus and chorus.
Lyrically, as a high school kid finding this song, it is quintessential Emo. I never heard the term Emo before I listened to Diary. I didn’t know Rites of Spring, Drive Like Jehu, or others. I knew Sunny Day Real Estate, and they reminded me of Smashing Pumpkins and other early 1990s bands, but they had a different feel. They had a harder feel, kind of like Nirvana, yet different. Enigk’s opening plea to “meet me there in the blue, where words are not, feeling remains” encapsulates a lot that high school longing I felt for a relationship. It always felt like running in circles, as Enigk screams in the chorus.
I don’t have have the time or space to go through all of my favorite Sunny Day Real Estate songs, let alone Jeremy Enigk’s solo work of The Fire Theft’s songs. Needless to say, I’d recommend listening to “Bucket of Chicken,” “Snibe,” “Television,” “Round,” and on and on. I can’t recommend just one or two songs. I recommend their entire discography.
Here is a clip from Furnace Fest to end out this post! What are some of your favorite Sunny Day Real Estate tracks? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.