Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Know That We Would Fall in There For A Time and Then Unfall Again...

(Continued from a previous post)

LP2 was a greater success than Diary commercially if not artistically. But the tensions in the band were too great, and before the album was even released the foursome had gone their separate ways. Mendel and Goldsmith were recruited by Dave Grohl to join Foo Fighters, while Hoerner moved to a farm in rural Washington state and Enigk recorded a solo record called Return of the Frog Queen, which is not without its merits (though I will not be discussing it anymore).

Sub Pop, who was losing its status as a giant of the indie labels (and I know that's counterintuitive) began urging Enigk and Hoerner to collaborate on an album of b-sides and rarities. Buzz began building when Mendel and Goldsmith agreed to contribute to the project. It was soon realized that the album would be short, so the group began writing new material. The rarities album never came to fruition, however, because the group decided instead to record a new full album. Sub Pop was informed and agreed to the change. The buzz grew.

How it Feels to Be Something On

Artist: Sunny Day Real Estate
Title: How it Feels to Be Something On
Label/Year: Sub Pop 1998

During the recording sessions for the second Foo Fighters album, Dave Grohl secretly re-recorded most of the drum tracks with himself playing because he was unhappy with how Goldsmith had played. Understandably upset, Goldsmith left the band to devote his time exclusively to the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion and the new album. Nate Mendel, however, backed out before Sunny Day went into the studio, committing himself full time to Grohl and the Foo Fighters. Mendel had already contributed to many of the songs which found their way onto the third Sunny Day album, but for the recording and the subsequent tour, Jeff Palmer played bass (he was replaced during the tour by Joe Skyward).

How it Feels to Be Something On presented a much more mellow, mature sound to Sunny Day fans. Enigk's characteristic stratospheric voice was more subdued on many tracks. Gone, too, were the interweaving of different instruments. The construction of the different parts were much more traditional; rhythm guitar and bass laid the tonal foundation beside the steady drums, while lead guitar was more subdued than previous offerings.

Despite these differences, the album has gems. The opening track, "Pillars" feels the most like original Sunny Day (the title of this post is borrowed from this song). The album continues without interuption to track two, "Roses in Water." This, again, feels like older Sunny Day, with the familiar unison rhythmic patterns from the first two albums. Back, too, are the hypnotic repetitions which pepper Diary and LP2.

The third track, "Every Shining Time You Arrive" is one of the most beautiful songs on the album; a two chord progression and a looped drum part (which at first I cringed, but it seems to fit, and even as a drummer I've admitted this was a good idea) flow under simple lead lines and Enigk's floating melody. But let me talk about the looped drum part for a moment, if I might. It's true that looping one measure of drum part over and over in a four minute song could get boring, especially for the drummer when you have to play it live, but as a listener you don't notice until it stops for a moment, following the only cymbal crash in the whole song. It has the effect of your grandmother cursing, you know? Think of the most foul-mouthed person you know, and you won't bat an eye when they drop an F-bomb. It has all the effect of an empty water balloon bursting three feet behind you. But if your grandmother dropped one, it has the effect of a supernova. Looping the part was a way to insure Goldsmith only added one crash. Supernova.

From here, the album goes to "Two Promises" which is almost as bad as the album gets. The lyrics are trying too hard to be "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles; "He thinks, I gave her my heart, she tasted my blood/now she's gone again/Why did you leave me here?/How could you leave me down here?" Add to this, if you try to sing along with it you find it nearly impossible. It's common in Sunny Day Real Estate songs for the guitars to be doing one thing and the vocal a completely different, but in this case the difference is too great.

And unfortunately, you find out next where they could go that could be worse than where they've been. "100 Million" is Dan Hoerner's attempt at an anthem condemning the commoditization of everything and the destruction of the environment. It is blatant; "Pay for the food on your plate to live/Pay for the mood in your mind to give a thought disguised/pay for the simplest things" and the most blatant "One hundred million/fences surround us/can we own everything/including the moon and the sun and the stars?" It's clear that Enigk is the songwriter in the group, while Hoerner just dabbles.

There is respite after this track, however, as the title track is up next. Like Diary's "Sometimes" "How It Feels..." lilts but is full of power and sadness. It always feels like the weight of the song is keeping it from going too fast; powerfully fast drum licks are followed by slow time keeping, Goldsmith leaning on the backside of each beat (jazz drummers will know the opposite of what I am talking about). Like LP2, this album has a creamy center with this piece.

The album moves on to "The Prophet" which begins with acoustic guitar and what sounds like it could be a Buddhist mantra chanted under rising vocal oh's. The drums kick in, not keeping time but denoting breaks where it is acceptable to nod. Without warning, the tune kicks into slow time and the real vocals start, then back, then back again. This makes for good driving music but not good listening music. Following a tune which is a pure pleasure just to sit and listen to, "The Prophet" comes along and instigates movement with its pulse pounding drums and soaring vocals. The end of this tune comes at such fever pitch, you imagine there might not be room for any more music in your speakers regardless of their size.

Aware of this, the band turns it down for the next track, fan favorite "Guitar and Video Games." And before you ask, yes, it is about playing guitars and video games. Sort of. In standard slow-SDRE fashion, this tune lilts. It is, uncharacteristically, about love that seems to be working out. As a teenager when this album was released, who spent much of his time playing guitar and video games, it gave me hope; maybe out there somewhere is a girl who won't mind me and might even join in with guitar and video games. And as I count myself as a fairly standard representation of Sunny Day's fanbase, you can see how it became a fan favorite.

The album's penultimate song has an interesting title with "The Shark's Own Private Fuck." This goes into the same category as "The Blankets Were the Stairs" because I couldn't tell you for a moment why it's called this. I can say that the string accompaniment fits perfectly with the tune, and that it seems as though Goldsmith used this tune as an opportunity to crash his cymbals enough to make up for the restrained loop-track on "Every Shining Time You Arrive."

The final tune on this album, "The Days Were Golden," is rather tragic. Not in and of itself because it's fairly straightforward. "The days were golden/and we were known to be/We won't escape this memory forward on/to the place we sail" it opens. No, what's tragic is that the title says the days were golden. The truth hurts; this album is only a slight improvement over LP2 and does not artistically approach Diary. It's as if the band knew things could not be as good in the future as they had been.

I had the good fortune to be in the audience at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis on February 25, 1999, to see Sunny Day Real Estate as they toured in support of this album. Everything about that night was perfect. Well, almost perfect. I remember it was warm for a February night, which was great. The opening band was a group called MK Ultra (headed by John Vanderslice, if anybody knows who that is) and I had come prepared; they were good enough I wanted to buy their album, so I went to the merch table and bought a copy of The Dream is Over and a Sunny Day Real Estate t-shirt. The shirt, for the record, was a ringer, white with black rings, with the fly from LP2 on the chest and the name of the band on the back in the same font used all over Diary. The second band came out, Heroic Doses, and I liked them so much I bought their album. And when I say album, I mean vinyl. They were out of CDs, and I could either pay them now and give them my address (not falling for that no matter how legit it turned out to be), buy it online (this was 1999, the early days of internet shopping) or get it on cassette or vinyl. I went vinyl. Vinyl is actually a topic for another day, though. Cool moments of the night: peed next to bassist for MK Ultra and shook hands with Heroic Doses' drummer after their set. He was taller than even me. Scary.

I wish I could remember the whole set list. I know they opened with "Pillars" and they played "Seven" and "Rodeo Jones." I also know they played "100 Million" which just confirmed the idea in my head that it is the worst song they've ever written. They played "J'Nuh" and "The Prophet" which I thought was a new song because they started it differently than it starts on the album.

What was cool about the show was Jeremy and Dan spoke to the audience a lot. They talked about the first time they played a show in St. Louis, which Dan said took place in "the basement of a Hardees I think, and there were about twelve people there, only two of whom had heard of us before and only one of whom had a high opinion of us." I remember somebody shouting, "Play 'Two Promises'" and Jeremy saying, "No. You don't want us to do that live, trust me. It's no good live." Somebody else yelled, "Play 'Seven'" and when Dan said they already had, the guy shouted back, "I got here late, play it again!" Everyone laughed. At one point, Goldsmith broke a stick. To close, they played "Days Were Golden." As each member finished their part, he turned off his amp and left the stage until only Goldsmith remained, lightly hammering the time as his spotlight turned amber and completely faded. Amazing. At the end of the night, I had the CD, the record, the t-shirt (on over the shirt I brought), and the broken drumstick. My buddy Zach had similar packages (no vinyl for him) plus an intact drumstick. Our friend Dave made off with a copy of the set list (I wonder if he still has it). It was amazing, and made even more so by the fact that I was sixteen and it was a school night. My ears rang the whole next day, I was tired, but I wore that shirt at school with a smile on my face.

Joe Skyward opted out of the band after the tour ended, and it was decided Enigk, Hoerner and Goldsmith would enter the studio as a threesome to record a fourth album. But not before Sub Pop released a live album and a live concert video.

I'm not going to review the live album. The artwork is boring, the mix isn't great. It's none of the fun of going to a real concert. The video isn't much better. But it fulfilled Sunny Day Real Estate's contract with Sub Pop, and before going into the studio they went label shopping, and ended up on Time Bomb recordings (an independent label with the power of BMG's distribution network). It was felt that this arrangement would be most beneficial; the small label would allow Sunny Day to stay in creative control while BMG could reach a larger market. Good bye Sub Pop, hello Time Bomb.

The Rising Tide

Artist: Sunny Day Real Estate
Title: The Rising Tide
Label/Year: Time Bomb 2000

In early 2000, a free mp3 was offered on Sunny Day's website. It was an early mix of "The Ocean" from their new album, and I liked what I heard. It was of the mellow variety Sunny Day Real Estate, but it had everything I loved about their music. I couldn't wait until the album came out.

I remember buying this CD at Vintage Vinyl at midnight on June 20th, 2000. It was the summer before my senior year of high school. I wore my Sunny Day Real Estate shirt and stood in line for an hour before midnight. I went with my friend Emily Adams in her VW Beetle. It was that awesome kind of summer night warmth that is perfect for driving with the windows down. About five minutes after midnight, I had my copy and we were heading back out to her car. We took the longest route home we could think of while I blasted the CD. I managed to keep it low enough her speakers weren't blown out, but only barely. I remember the rubber seal around the passenger door was peeling off inside the car and flapping in the breeze and I remember when the CD ended and we still weren't back to her house (which is where my car was, which was not mine but my dad's and didn't have a CD player) and the CD started over and I beat the dashboard along with William Goldsmith so hard that the glove compartment opened, bashing me in the knees.

This album opens that well. The first track, "Killed By an Angel" starts with a crescendo of drums and into very heavy guitar. For a moment, it feels like old Sunny Day is back. Unison, each instrument feels like it wants to lead but everything fits. Enigk soars above it. And this first tune atones for the sin of "100 Million." This is how you write a song about the state of affairs. "Beg for more when all else fails/serum viles to help you when your sad" the song says, repeating the line "It's never how you feel/it comes in a bottle."

Inexplicably, track two on this album is called "One." And while tunes such as "Seven," "8," "47" and "48" have nothing to do with the number, this one does. "Everything and everyone and in the end we are all one/The truth will not be denied" the chorus goes, annoyingly. The song even opens with the line "And it's strange/how we're wasting our lives novacaine/when the pain helps us rise/here we stay." You realize, oh. It's going to be one of those albums, with a theme of "this is how we see the world and what we think is wrong with it." Look, unless you're U2, a whole album of that gets a little much. Also, it last time you tried something like that, you wrote the worst song you have ever written, maybe you should stick to writing about introspection.

The third track is called "Rain Song" and it dawned on me the first time I thought about it, that they're not the first band to have songs titled "Rain Song" and "The Ocean" on the same album. Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy anyone?

Unfortunately, Sunny Day's "Rain Song" is a bad love song. "You are a devil, they say and it's candy" springs to mind as evidence. Also, "Nevermind the words they waste/they can't see you're mine" and the appallingly creepy "dreaming of the day when you open your arms in the light of our love." You are not the same band that released Diary are you? In fact, the artwork in the liner notes opposite the lyrics for the first three tunes indicates that they are the same band, minus a member; a promotional photograph of the band had been turned into a two-toned pictogram of, from left to right, Goldsmith, Enigk and Hoerner. None of them appear to be smiling.

The fourth track on the album, "Disappear," buys back some of this transgression. In fact, it's got a great pulsating beat and driving guitar, it would fit perfectly where "100 Million" falls on How it Feels... but then this album would have less to sell itself on.

By this point in the first listen, I had learned the main difference between the Sunny Day Real Estate of the year 2000 and the Sunny Day Real Estate of the year 1994; they think they learned how to write a song.

In truth, the artistry seemed to be gone, which is frustrating for a fan. Again, "Disappear" is not a bad tune. But it feels like a regression from where they've been. The following track, "Snibe" is about a fictitious monster, according to interviews with Hoerner. Snibe is inside us all. Snibe is what makes us do bad things to our fellow man. I can't help but like this song, though. The instrumentation is interesting and heavier than the band usually goes. The melody is clever and different enough from what the instruments are doing that it feels less like a regression and more like a sidestep. But the lyrics keep me from loving this song. "Old enough to abuse me/But all too cheap to amuse me" precedes a statement which seems to admit complacency in letting hunger and poverty persist. Again, unless you're U2...

But then we get to "The Ocean" which is the first track on the album that doesn't seem to be trying to either solve or showcase the problems of the world. It lilts. This would fit well on Diary almost. For the first time on this album, it feels like an improvement from their debut. And the ending of this's perfect. I love it. In case you were wondering if I had anything actually nice to say about this album, yes. Yes I do. I love this song. This song is the album's creamy center.

Sunny Day then takes their similarities to Led Zeppelin a step too far with their next track, "The Fool in the Photograph" (In Through the Out Door's "Fool in the Rain" anyone?) but here it stops. With this tune, Sunny Day does something it hadn't done much of except for with LP2's "Iscarabaid" and "J'Nuh:" An instrument matches the vocals. Perhaps they were thinking back on the "Two Promises" debacle, and decided to integrate a fail safe into this tune, which is a difficult one to sing along with as well, though the instrunentation helps. The only truly odd spot in this tune comes at the three minute mark. Up until that point, it's had a kind of mid-eastern style to the chord changes and melody. Then all of a sudden, it's a Rob Thomas song. Not a good feel.

"Tearing in My Heart" comes next, a lilting quiet piece that inexplicably opens with footsteps and a woman's sharp, scratchy and almost angry sounding voice saying "Here's some kids, you wanna hear some kids?" Without waiting for us to answer yes or no, she says, "Listen." And you do hear kids, playing. Apparently, this was Dan's sister recording herself walking around Paris, or something like that. It's strange, and I'm not sure what kind of expiremental angle they were trying to go for with that move. Other than that, the tune itself isn't bad. It's everything "Rain Song" tried to be but wasn't in terms of musicality, and it's a song about how it feels to be abandoned and then rescued. "Tearing in my heart when it all falls apart/and it's almost too hard/Tearing in my soul when you help make me whole/when it's all said and done." A little blatant, but the point is made. It seems like they're trying to predict the future here (writer's note; they are doing that).

Next comes the very strange, we're-really-not-trying-to-sound-like-Radiohead-but-we-kinda-wish-we-did "Television." They don't succeed at sounding like Radiohead at all, but they try to add a little electronica. Not to mention Enigk throws in a vocal riff ripped from former Seattle neighborhood chums Pearl Jam (seriously, I expect Enigk to break into a very ironic version of "Jeremy" after this vocal run at about the one minute twenty second mark).

Next up, the second to last offering is called "Faces in Disguise" and it's actually pretty good. It feels a little Bruce Springsteen "Streets of Philadelphia" inspired, but that's a pretty good tune itself. This one never gets too loud or too busy. This is the peak point of the album, in fact. While it is not like any other Sunny Day Real Estate, it's not bad like some of the other new avenues they explore on this album.

The album closes with the title track. And it returns to the theme of much of the album. "Color your skin with gold and the violence remains/cover your eyes with rose but the stain remains." But much like the first track, this particular tune handles the matter well. While "Killed by An Angel" rocks hard to get the point across, "The Rising Tide" relies on a more subdued piano feel. The record ends with the line "Morning comes in the dream before we rise/when we linger side by side/it's my heart that speaks this time/we will ride the rising tide" which sounds like it could be usurped by Glenn Beck if you think about it, but it's a message of hope. The tide rising is not a bad thing, it's a good thing. High tide can wash away the bad. Right?

Six days after this album found its way out of Vintage Vinyl and into my hands, I took it back to Vintage Vinyl. No, I didn't hate it so much I was willing to sell it back at a loss. And I wasn't so strapped for cash that I sold my most recent acquisition. Why would I return to the store with my copy?

This is why. I wish that were me in that picture, but it's not (I pulled this off of Vintage Vinyl's website). But I was there, trust me, this time with my friend Katie. I got my copy of The Rising Tide signed (I love the guy in this picture with his vinyl copy of How it Feels... which just made me remember Dan Hoerner's sweet tattoo of the starburst from the cover of that album on his left forearm...okay, sorry to slow you down). It was very cool to get the album signed by Jeremy, William and Dan. I even talked to them about their show the year before at Mississippi Nights. Dan said the crowd was great. Jeremy said the second opening act was tough to follow. William said he didn't remember it, that he had such a fever for a couple nights, he said he couldn't remember the shows between Nashville and Boulder. Zach was there, too, and he had the band sign not only his copy of The Rising Tide but also the drumstick Goldsmith had accidentally thrown into the crowd (which was how Zach got the drumstick).

Later that night, they played at The Firehouse. I got there particularly early, so we could get right up close to the stage. In fact, we arrived before the band did, and we were sitting against the venue outside eating Taco Bell (procured for us by a friend who asked us to save him a spot while he got food) when the tour bus pulled up. Dan looked at me and said, "Hey, I know that guy!" It was a cool moment for me.

I wish I could remember more of this concert. I couldn't tell you who the opening bands were, because they weren't all that great. I can tell you that Jeremy, Dan and William were center stage while two nameless guys played bass and keyboard kind of almost off-stage left. I know they played "8" and most of the new album and I remember thinking that "Tearing in My Heart" was a beautiful live song. I know they played "In Circles" and "Shadows." When they played, "The Rising Tide" they exited the stage for five minutes before coming back out. We all screamed, "Play 'Seven'" or whatever other song everybody wanted to hear, but they surprised us all by playing "Sometimes" which they have rarely played live. And that was how it ended; "No words, right words."

After the show, William threw his busted snare drum head frisbee-style into the crowd, and I jumped up and caught it. Dan saw this, looked at me and recognized me again. "I guess you'll have to hold onto that," he said, "and we can sign it the next time we come through." Another awesome moment for me.

But, as the title of this post says, they fell in there for a time and then unfell again. Time Bomb pulled funding for their European tour last minute and then almost overnight disintegrated, leaving the band without a label and without any more tour dates. In fact, the situation with Time Bomb had been a slow burning disaster from the start, with mismanagement and disorganization and very little cash flow. Disilusioned and tired, the band called it quits for a second time.

Amazingly, Hoerner-Enigk-Goldsmith is still Sunny Day Real Estate, but Enigk-Goldsmith-Mendel apparently becomes something new. In 2001, that trio announced a new project entitled The Fire Theft. Like many "projects" in the music industry, this wasn't going to be a band per se, but a group (or "band") of musicians who would tour and record when they had no other obligations (such as Mendel's ongoing association with The Foo Fighters, Enigk's solo career, Goldsmith's crippling arthritis, etc). The music was almost Sunny Day. Almost.

In 2006, rumors began sweeping the internet of a possible SDRE reunion. These rumors were quickly quelched by the members of the band.

In 2007, more rumors began, and while these were also denied, they were not denied as forcefully. And in late 2007, it seemed Enigk and Goldsmith at least were interested in maybe thinking about the slightest chance of possibly pondering the notion of thinking of a reunion. Maybe.

By late 2008, plans were being made. Even Mendel was on board.

And late Summer 2009, Sunny Day Real Estate began touring again. I dug the old drum head out of storage. And then I checked the schedule.

They overlooked St. Louis. I couldn't believe it...they had planned a tour without a stop in the Gateway City. I was heartbroken.

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood. Fellow St. Louisans, you know what I'm talking about: what venues do we have left? Mississippi Nights? Gone. The Firehouse? Dante's Inferno stupid freaking skank dance club now. The Galaxy? Gone. The Side Door? Gone. The Hi-Pointe? Gone. All that's really left is Kiel/Savvis/Scott Trade, The Fox, Riverport/UMB Bank Pavillion/Verizon Wireless/whatever-the-crap-it's-called-now Ampitheatre and The Pageant. Most of those venues are too big or too expensive for Sunny Day. I guess The Pageant was all booked up.

Diary and LP2 have been re-released with bonus tracks on CD and clear red vinyl (available for purchase at This link for anyone interested in buying me a birthday or Christmas present, hint hint clear red vinyl copies of SDRE albums). Their concert from 9/30/09 at the 9:30 club in D.C. was recorded for NPR's All Songs Considered Live Concert Podcast (go download this right now on your iTunes). They opened with "Seven" and closed with "Days Were Golden." They played "Spade and Parade" which was one of their old b-sides. They didn't play a single song from The Rising Tide, which I guess speaks to their own opinion about the album. They even played a new song. If you want to know how it sounds, well...I guess you'll have to go download the podcast yourself. I think I've spoken enough on the subject.

Happy listening.

1 comment:

bridget said...

what about off broadway?