Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary

Genre: Emo
Label: Sub Pop
Producer: Brad Wood
Release Year: 1994
Listen: Spotify / Apple Music

Not to be a Gen X rock cliché, but this album is pretty fucking awesome. Sorry snark monsters and other backward-looking goons, but Sunny Day Real Estate’s 1994 debut, Diary, goes down in the annals of 90s music as the coolest album that nobody in 2023 will admit to liking even one little bit. Cynics and revisionist haters of everything that is earnest and good. And drummy. And passionate. And… emo. Which, I know, gets my Gen Z children all in a tizzy. But if they could have been there with me as this record dropped pretty much on my college graduation day with its soft-loud-soft bloodletting, they would understand.

Like I said, I was a freshly minted adult, birthed exactly when this new music came forth unto the world. From the same womb, Seattle, that birthed the grunge era and Nirvana before it, this was something equally as impassioned, but utterly different. Lush and produced in a really melodic, but heavy, way by super-producer Brad Wood, it is just constantly going for the gut shot. The light and airy Jeremy Enigk whatever-the-hell-you-would-call-his-oddball-nasally-rasp leading to a crushing wave of gain and a rhythm section that felt second-to-none at that point in the genre. It’s no wonder Dave Grohl instantaneously snapped up the drummer, William Goldsmith, and bassist, Nate Mendel, for the Foo Fighters as soon as they came on the market. When Enigk went on one of his religious walkabouts, or whatever. Because they really are the core of this band. And while Enigk does have a tendency to sound like a wounded cat, and has some serious Eddie Vedder mushmouth, his piercing vocals really float on top of the mix in a way that carries the melodies while the bass carries the bottom, the guitars soar and the drums punctuate the emo heart hits.

Look, I know I’m showing all my age. Talking in such glowing terms about the album that all but kicked off second-wave, Midwestern emo. Bizarre considering this band is most definitely not Midwestern. But genre-naming conventions are always problematic. Point is, once you hear this record and understand that you want music that puts you in its sad-boy embrace, but also throttles you with some serious rock ‘n’ roll, you seek out anything and everything that can bring you this same high. Even when those bands are also not from the Midwest, but Texas. Like Mineral. But especially if they’re actually from the Midwest, like The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids, Cursive, Braid and even the lesser-known Compound Red. The thing is, none of these bands ever made an album up to Diary’s level. Honestly, I’m not sure any of them was even really trying. And they made some fun and great albums, but none were as soft-loud-soft. None were as swirling and enveloping. None were as emo, frankly. This was a one-of-one record.

I do think a lot of the glory of this thing lies in the production. And just the cathartic spirit of the whole endeavor. And, yes, it doesn’t have the freewheeling, raw-throated chaos of some of the grungier albums of that era, but it also has a musicianship that certainly grew out of something harder and darker that is employed with a tightness that is undeniable. A kind of controlled build and explosion that is insanely potent. Which, when put next to the other Gen X touchstones of something like Pavement’s album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which was also released in 1994, it does almost come off as asinine, over-the-top and completely sincere in the cringiest of ways. So, yeah, they probably wouldn’t have been on a double bill. But maybe they would have also been an awesome ying and yang for that time if they were to play together. I know I certainly has some mixes with both sitting side by side. Whatever the case, I will always ride for Diary, and all you kids can just jump off the dilsnick. Gen X out.