Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Sunny Day Real Estate – “Song About an Angel” from Diary (1994 Sub Pop)


I’ve never been very good at being a Sunny Day Real Estate fan in the manner of true blue Sunny Day Real Estate fans, and in fact only really appreciate the band properly by not listening to them very often. I can’t account for this. The version I’d like to present goes like this: I heard them at the same time that I was being exposed to a lot of emo bands, and in the end went in a more Julia or Boys Life direction. In that version I come away with my DIY cred fully intact, which is, I don’t have to tell you, of paramount importance. Trouble is, that doesn’t account for the time spent listening to Mineral and the Get up Kids, and I know that some of you who read this blog remember those times, and if you’re real friends you’ll call me on my shit, and then what kind of cred do I have?

So let’s circle back to that, but in the meantime, speaking of “emo bands,” can we please all take a blood oath to stop using terminology like this? I know, it seems helpful and innocuous enough, but then pretty soon we’re typing out sentences like this: “While not the first band to be classified as emo, they were instrumental in establishing the genre.” Or worse, this: “It has also been called the missing link betweenpost-hardcore and the nascent emo genre.” This one I don’t mind as much, as it at least suggests a certain knowledge of some historical context: “The album is considered by many to be a defining emo album of the second wave.” But the real danger is that, I don’t know, maybe you’re a struggling journalist working for some shitty alternative weekly, spending your every waking moment trying to impress some douchebag editor for whom you can’t even muster the tiniest bit of respect, and next thing you know you’re responsible for something like this: “In 2013, Diary took the first place in LA Weekly‘s list “Top 20 Emo Albums in History”.”

In any case, I like Sunny Day Real Estate just fine, but I’ve never been able to get super duper excited about them in the way that others have. As I said, I can’t account for this, because listening to “Song About an Angel” now, I’m struck by its beauty and precision, the top-notch musicianship, the intricacies of the songwriting. It works the quiet/loud/quiet formula, but there’s so much more going on than that, including really strong melodic progression and hooks. So what’s my problem?

I have a lot of stuff in my iTunes library that I feel similarly about. I have to hope that, if you’re reading this, you’re enough of a music dork that maybe you can relate. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste.

But let me try anyway: I saw Fugazi play once at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was, of course, fantastic. I remember being annoyed by the crowd (I’ve been a curmudgeony old man for as long as I can recall), but even so, my enduring memory is of these moments where the guitars were just so fucking perfectly in sync and in tune with one another, it felt as if we had all crossed over to another plane. Please know how self-consciously I wrote that description, but I don’t know another way to put it.

Listening to Sunny Day Real Estate now, I hear the potential for such moments built into the songs. Here’s the deal, though. I saw them play once, too, and they were SO BORING. Granted, this was in 1998 or so and a part, I believe, of their first reunion tour, so I have to believe that they weren’t at the top of their game at this point, but it has definitely colored my memory of the band.

But then I see their album art, and I’m transported back to an earlier time in Minneapolis, when Let it Be Records sat proudly on Nicollet Mall, and a high school kid could wander in and see a bright pink LP (LP2) right next to an LP with a painting of Little People on it (Diary), and think, “well, that’s pretty great.” I think that’s the kind of marveling I need to get back to.


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