Unsung Classics, Part 6
It takes some serious cojones to boldly step outside the constraints of your established local music scene and throw down a bold challenge with a sound that is strikingly your […]
It takes some serious cojones to boldly step outside the constraints of your established local music scene and throw down a bold challenge with a sound that is strikingly your own, and that is exactly what Seattle’s Sunny Day Real Estate set out to do. Surrounded by a burgeoning grunge scene, the young quartet found themselves left cold by the rapidly-stagnating genre, and decided to favour a more melodious approach, ending up with a sound unlike any of their contemporaries. Sunny Day were just as powerful and dynamic as any of the great ‘grunge’ bands, but with a striking melodic focus and epic scope in their song-writing, and many of their fans concur that this was best demonstrated on their seminal debut, Diary.
Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate, 1993, Sub Pop
Comprised of guitars that go from snarling to caressing in the blink of an eye and a locked-in rhythm section, Sunny Day’s most polarising factor is Jeremy Enigk’s voice. Aged only 18 when this album was recorded, his gnarled rhythm guitar contrasts spectacularly with his high, keening falsetto; it seems almost ethereal, ranging from a tender croon to a skinny, youthful howl. The combination of these factors is nothing less than intoxicating, and gives hard-charging songs such as ‘Seven’ and ‘Shadows’ a mix of edge and beauty, a style that would become ubiquitous for years afterward.
What is also of note is that the music on Diary does not always end up as one would expect; there are fast rock songs to be found, but for the most part, the tracks are mid-tempo, soaring pieces that trade in soft-loud dynamics and thunderous climaxes. ‘In Circles’, a Sunny Day fan favourite, begins with a two-note hook that the listener expects to ignite a face-tearing punk tune, but instead breaks into a slow, brooding anthem, with call-and-response roars in the chorus providing a counterpoint to Engik’s gentle near-whisper of “In circles”. Likewise, ‘47’ and ’48’ do not resort to hyper-speed bludgeoning, but are if anything all the more powerful for it, with searing guitar interplay and shifting dynamics. ‘Shadows’ is another highlight, shifting into a quicker gear, with lyrics that come straight from Enigk’s youthful mind; “In the shadows buried in me lies a child’s toy / Tried to figure out memorise their words for hope.” There are a couple of mis-steps; ‘The Blankets Were The Stairs’ is a little too dirge-like and lacks the melody of the rest of the album, and ‘Phuerton Skeurto’ is just plain odd. But they are not nearly enough to spoil the listener’s enjoyment.
Diary is aptly titled, given its focus on emotional resonance rather than the nihilistic flailing of the albums surrounding it. It still sounds just as arresting and fresh in 2011 as it did in 1993, and still stands tall in spite of many inferior bands’ attempt at approximating its emotional-yet-forceful punch. If anything you’ve just read sounds appealing, then pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.