Sunny Day Real Estate’s ‘How It Feels To Be Something On’

Most of the college rock world was broken-hearted when the members of Sunny Day Real Estate parted ways in 1994. The band released its second album, Sunny Day Real Estate (a.k.a. LP2 ), in much the same way that the Beatles self-titled album is more commonly referred to as “the White Album;” but LP2 was pink. The album gained as much critical praise as the band’s breakthrough first album Diary.

The story of the breakup is more interesting than most. Jeremy Enigk, the band’s lead singer, became a born again Christian at some point after the 1993 release of Diary. He wanted his writing to follow that progression in his life. Yet not all the band members were comfortable with that decision; it caused enough tension in the band to force a break-up. Drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel joined Dave Grohl and his fledgling Foo Fighters; guitarist Dan Hoerner first decided to become a farmer and later worked for Atlantic Records; and Enigk went on to write his successful Return of the Frog Princess LP and produce Christian rock acts.

Then rumors surfaced of a SDRE reunion, an album of left over studio work, hey, maybe even some tour dates. These rumors in fact turned out to manifest themselves in a whole new album, How It Feels to be Something On , with all the members of the band minus Mendel. Touring would soon follow.

The result is what I would argue is the best album since Radiohead’s OK Computer. The album gives most of what fans have come to expect from SDRE. Enigk and Hoener’s guitar playing is superb. It oscillates between very mellow chord strumming and very complex playing. Goldsmith’s drumming and newcomer John Palmer’s bass playing set the base on which Enigk and Hoener build.

At the heart of How it Feels to be Something On are, as usual for SDRE, Enigk’s lyrics and voice. His voice reaches almost unthinkable falsetto pitches. The result is an almost haunting sound on the album – a sound which denotes great emotion on Enigk’s part. It has been said, and I don’t have too much problem with this, that SDRE is the emo band. All others in the genre hope to follow their lead.

As for the lyrics themselves, Enigk’s encounters with faith seem apparent to me, although some might just say one would find these lyrics in any “love” songs. I would point to the last verse in “Every Shining Time You Arrive” to show this point. “In the depths of my gloom/I crawl out for you/from the peaks of my joy/I crawl back into/tearing me down every time you smile/ every shining time you arrive.” Sure, Enigk might be talking about a love interest; he might also be talking about a Christian’s feelings toward Christ. I think that both interpretations are valid.

“Every Shining Time You Arrive” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I think that all ten tracks are particularly solid and add to the completeness of the album. The album’s strength comes in large measure to the fact that it works as an album, not as a collection of “ready for radio” singles.

Other favorites include “Guitar and Video Games,” a song based on two friends being friends and playing guitar and video games as friends. Few lyricists could make such a banal interaction between adolescent males into something interesting. Enigk can.

The album ends on a particularly hopeful note. The opening verse of “The Days Were Golden” states, “The days were golden/we were known to be/we won’t escape this memory forward on/to the place we sail.” Perhaps Enigk has SDRE’s fabled past in mind, and feels that the band won’t be able to get away from it. When I saw SDRE play over the summer, they only played two songs from their previous albums. The band seems intent on moving forward and this album is a clear step in that direction. The last verse of the “The Days Were Golden” says “All to be free/ when you raise an open hand/ this place without a wall/ the words just grow.” SDRE has certainly grown a lot in the last four years. I hope that they will continue to do so, and write more excellent albums in the process.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *