MUSIC REVIEWS FROM THE HEART OF TORONTO

SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE - HOW IT FEELS TO BE SOMETHING ON (VINYL REISSUE)


How It Feels To Be Something On was the third record in the tortured history of Seattle’s Sunny Day Real Estate, but it was quite possibly the band’s finest hour. Let’s just
quickly revisit the history that got them to that point in 1998. In the span of an
astonishing 18 month period, Sunny Day Real Estate had gone from releasing a
landmark debut album (Diary) and completing a very successful touring cycle for said
record, recording a follow-up that was even more complex and mesmerizing than it’s
predecessor, to being broken up! Think about that for a minute - Sub Pop released
Diary on May 10, 1994, and by the time LP2 is released on November 7,1995, the band
doesn’t even exist anymore! When, if ever, have we seen such a career arc? Ok, maybe
The Sex Pistols! With it’s anthemic singles “7” and “In Circles”, SDRE were garnering
many fans who were touched by the interplay of Jeremy Enigk’s soaring and scarred
vocals meeting the quiet/loud musical arrangements of guitarist Daniel Hoerner, bassist
Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith. The band even gave rise to a new genre
that played on the emotional qualities found within the music: “emo”. Though it must
have been an exciting time for the still young quartet, the cracks were already starting to
appear in the facade. Enigk, having gone through an intense period of self-discovery,
came out the other side a born again Christian. Whether it was this development or just
the growing pains of four young men stuck in a van for too long, in the blink of an eye
Sunny Day Real Estate had broken up. Though the band split in 1995, they did manage
to hand in their sophomore record to Sub Pop on their way out. LP2, or as some have
now dubbed it, The Pink Album, was released with no push from band: Enigk was
already working on a solo record, Hoerner bought a farm with his wife and Mendel and
Goldsmith had accepted Dave Grohl’s offer to join his first post-Nirvana project...a little
band called Foo Fighters!


So, roll the clocks forward two years to 1997 and Sub Pop is asking Enigk and Hoerner
for help in compiling a rarities collection. The duo thought that it would be an added
bonus to include a new song or two, so they started writing some new material and
before you knew it, they had more than enough to seriously consider making a new
album. When it was all said and done, Goldsmith was called back in and new bass
player player, Jeff Palmer, was recruited to round out the rhythm section. How It Feels
To Be Something On was released on September 8, 1998 and Sunny Day Real Estate
v2.0 was officially back in business.


The album opens with “Pillars”, where an ominous guitar meets a leading bassline that
eventually has Enigk pleading “Don’t tell me you’ve gone astray / I walk in circles / I’ve
seen a million things that tell me so.”


Things take an even more dramatic turn with “100 Million.” The guitars take a more
central role and Enigk’s pleas become more...dare I say, emotional? “What if we refuse
to follow the rules of fashion?” and “All this time hiding from death / And you want to find
peace and you find me” are just two examples of Enigk’s turmoil, either from within or
observed.


How it Feels is a brilliant album because it works on so many levels. The
aforementioned emotional lyrical content is delivered with the kind of intensity and heft
that Enigk had already become famous for, with not only Sunny Day’s first two records,
but also his criminally under-appreciated 1996 solo debut, Return of the Frog Queen.
Aside from all of that though, musically it just represents such a giant leap forward from
where they were just four years earlier on Diary. There are elements of an Eastern
influence on a song like “The Prophet” with it’s tribal chanting and guitar phrases. “Every
Shining Time You Arrive” and “How It Feels To Be Something On” have an intensity that
rivals anything on Diary even though both songs are mid-tempo slow burners...and of
course “100 Million” and “Guitar and Video Games” will go down as essential SDRE
because of their dynamic structure.


Each record in the band’s library is essentially it’s own chapter in the greater Sunny Day
Real Estate story: Diary is the template of the so called “emo” genre and the sound of
four kids tapping into something magical. LP2 has a more difficult to pin down sound
about it...probably because it’s the sound of a band coming apart at the seams. But
despite the fact that some songs feature only half finished lyrics and no one could give
enough of a damn to even title the record or give it artwork (Goldsmith actually wound
up telling Sub Pop, seemingly jokingly, to “make it pink and put on a fly on it”). The
sophomore effort fuses elements of math rock, hardcore,prog and frankly, mystery, into
some sort of extraordinary concoction...and I say this with heavy bias because it’s one
of my all-time favourite records.


The last chapter of SDRE would come in 2000 with the release of The Rising Tide. This
record featured not only a move to a new label but a move towards a more “prog rock”
sound. Gone were the more mysterious aspects of not only the songwriting but the band
in general...this was to be a push for more mainstream appeal. Alas, it was not to be as
label woes would ultimately derail any further push forward from the band and they
would not be heard from again until a far too brief reunion tour in 2009. It should be said
though that work was started on a new record after that tour wrapped, but Mendel later
said that “it fell apart.” Those aborted sessions did at least result in one terrific song
(“Lipton Witch”) that wound up getting released as part of a split with Circa Survive for
Record Store Day 2014.


How It Feels To Be Something On continues to live on, now in cult classic status. The
songs, every bit as moving and relevant today as they were eighteen years ago, are still
regularly featured in Enigk solo shows. “How It Feels” is the perfect meeting point
between Diary’s raw emotional rock and The Rising Tide’s arena rock ambitions and
one can only hope that we are given the chance to experience them play it live again
someday!


- Johnny Hooper