The Rising Tide
Editor's Note: Not so much an album review as a biographical story. Still bad ass, though, so read away...
Sunny Day Real Estate is responsible for me forming my first real band.
It was a cool morning in October (October 24, 2000, to be exact), three friends (Rob, Wes, and Cory) loaded into one of our cars and began the decently-distant trek to the Midwestern Mecca of underage rock and roll: Bogarts in Cincinnati.
In Indiana, you can’t get into any clubs or bars until you are of legal drinking age, but in Ohio, you could get into clubs if you were 18 or older. Bogarts became the place to go to see your favorite bands play. When we heard Sunny Day Real Estate was coming through Cinci, we bought tickets and planned a trip around the Tuesday night show. I remember having an exam the next day, and I knew it would be a long day. Still, the temptation of seeing the legendary SDRE was far too great to pass this up.
I started going to school at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, in the fall of 1999. After arriving on campus, I became involved with two organizations that would both heavily impact my musical journey and overall life: WIUS 1570 AM, the campus radio station, and Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian fellowship organization. I soon was a deejay at WIUS, and a guitar-player in the praise band at IUCCC.
By my senior year, I would not be involved with either org – 19 credit hours a semester was a reason, disillusionment with my judgmental “brothers and sisters” would be another, and missing the deadline to be on the airwaves yet another – but for the first three years of college, both organizations played a central role in much of what I did on and off campus.
I met Wes and Cory through Rob. Cory was from Rob’s hometown. Wes was the singer in the praise band at IUCCC, and Rob was the fellow who brought me, along with my future ex-fiance, to IUCCC. Rob lived on the same floor as I did in our dorm (Wright Quad – holla, rowdy Rollins!). Soon after my first visit to IUCCC, I got involved with the band, and so began playing music with Wes.
At the same time, I was spending one day a week spinning records on WIUS. I started off with a terrible time slot – 4 to 6 in the morning – that I would love to have back. It was amazing. Later, I was able to get an afternoon time slot. Rob would frequently join me on these winter trips all the across campus to get to the studio, and, frozen, we invaded the airwaves with our brand of rock and roll. Slowly, though, we picked through records that looked interesting or that we have heard about it, and we found more and more interesting music.
Bloomington is a virtual paradise for music lovers – of all kinds. Classical and Jazz have legs there, great legs, thanks to the school of music and the myriad venues available to perform and listen to those types of music. But, there is also a seedy underbelly to Bloomington – a whole slew of record stores, venues, bands, artists, and radio stations that deal in Indie Rock and underground music. This is indie rock as independent rock – small record labels, unheard of bands, local talent, etc. – not the label used to describe a certain style of music, though those kind of bands certainly were around back then.
In this musical paradise, I discovered a slowly-growing form of music that came to be known as “emo.” Now, before you throw up, use profanity, piss on your computer, or take some other drastic action just because of the mere mention of that term, please realize that back then, that term wasn’t loaded like it is today. It described a form of music that sounds nothing like the music, bands, people and culture it is used to describe today.
There are usually two bands that are credited with the creation of the old-term kind of “emo” as a genre of music: Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate.
Sitting in the studios at WIUS, a discovered an odd-looking CD, something with fantastic artwork, including some odd orange-red sunburst thing on black matte background, and full of strange images and neatly scribed lyrics. It was the album How It Feels To Be Something On, by Sunny Day Real Estate. We had this rating system at WIUS, where a song got one to four stars, based on how “good” it was in the eyes/ears of the reviewer, with four being the best. The first song on the record, “Pillars,” had been rated a four. I played that song, and instantly fell in love with the band.
After that first play, SDRE became a staple of my radio shows, with “Pillars,” “How It Feels To Be Something On,” “Every Shining Time You Arrive,” “8,” “In Circles,” “Seven,” and more all becoming favorite tracks. SDRE served as a bridge into several other bands and albums. But nothing really ever came close to matching their sound: churning guitars and chiming melodies, whisper-to-scream-to-angelic vocals, elliptical and poetic lyrics, pounding poly-rhythms. They were (and still are) unlike any other band I had ever heard. They were singular, and singularly amazing.
So when the new album The Rising Tide came out, we all bought it. When the tour was announced and tickets went on sale, we got tickets to the show in Cinci. And we stood three rows of people back from the loudest concert I have ever been to. The volume isn’t even describable… and yet the sound cut through, too. You could hear each instrument, could here the vocals cut through the mix.
The band’s history is well-documented. The break-ups, the line-up shifts, the early singles, the no-shows-in-California stance. Their music grew, changed. What started like a hurricane became tempered with time, but no less forceful, powerful, emotional, and passionate.
With every album, Sunny Day’s passionate fans would both decry and uphold the albums. Each album has its supporters and detractors. It is telling that their albums have been so different, certainly if one compares the last one with the first one. Still, most fans embraced every incarnation of the band and its majestic sound.
Even with this, though, the last album, The Rising Tide, was seen by some as a sell-out, with softer songs, less anger, and the appearance of synthesizers on my songs. It became a point to question what was going on with this album. It was the album that most fans pointed to as their least favorite, at least at first (check out concert reviews from 2000 – fans are still questioning the album and its impact then, proof that it wasn’t seen as an immediate success). This line of thinking was, in a word, wrong.
The first song off of The Rising Tide was quintessential Sunny Day. “Killed By An Angel” had propulsive driving, crashing guitars, and Jeremy Enigk’s trademark vocals. It was merely the first shot of a one-two punch that would open an album that would be the most lush, majestic, and opulent one would create. “One,” the second track, would continue the aggressive nature of the first song, albeit in a more major-key way. Still, the presence of “major 7” chords, long another trademark staple of the Sunny Day sound, were present everywhere on this track.
“Rain Song” was the first quiet, more pop-oriented song. At first listen, it does sound quite distant from this band’s normally loud, thunderous songwriting, but it did fit nicely with what Enigk had done on his first solo album, Return of the Frog King. Still, the song showed a depth of songwriting, a step further from some of the ballads on How It Feels…, and it would serve as a brief interlude between the first two blistering tracks and the next two.
“Disappear” took a disjointed, Eastern-sounding scale riff and built on it a song that ebbed, flowed, built into a tidal wave and broke into a melodic fury that the band rode out for the rest of the song. “Snide” was a song drenched in synths, but one that still exhibited the stomp and thunder of typical old SDRE songs.
“The Ocean,” though, sounds to me like the band’s biggest – and best – leap forward. Here, cascading drums meet melodies that roll and tumble, evoking the song’s namesake. The song again showed a depth in songwriting that wasn’t present on the band’s first albums, one that they had cultivated from How It Feels… to charming effect. Keyboards and strings added much to the album’s overall sound, and are quite evident here.
On The Rising Tide, Sunny Day Real Estate were at their most Led Zeppelin. They combined their previously heavy, raging efforts with both a more acoustic sound and an ear towards the music of other cultures. Like “Disappear,” the song “Fool In The Photograph” sounded distinctly Eastern at times, and even U2-ish in the bridge, marrying melody with atmosphere.
“Tearing In My Heart” continued this album’s use of effecting ballads, which is truly a wonderful thing given how gifted a singer Enigk is. While the entire album showcases drummer William Goldsmith’s percussive genius and guitarist Dan Hoerner’s way with riffs that sound at once both heavy and harmonic, Jeremy Enigk’s voice is the show-stopper here.
“Television” was also another somewhat pop-oriented song, but much more U2- and Police-influenced, and still yet propulsive and driving in the best senses. The lyrics compare sex and love in a dream-like nature that reminds the protagonist of television. To this day, the song remains a perfect metaphor, for such things – the dreamlike nature of deep love and lust, especially over something that you can only touch those dreams. The song builds to an inspired crescendo, and again, here synths add to the climax of this powerful band.
The album ends as strongly as it begins, with arguably the two best tracks. It is as if the band managed to wrap everything about the first nine songs into the last two – each one exhibits traits from the others – the band’s way with melodies that absolutely soar, the uplifting nature of the lyrics across the entire album, the masterful use of percussion, strings and keyboards to color every corner, the anthemic, chiming guitars, the Eastern influences, and that sweet angelic voice that can become so unhinged, so quickly.
“Faces In Disguise” is another building-block track, one that stacks melodies and counter-melodies atop one another, layering its way to an explosive climax with Enigk’s soaring voice as ringleader. As throughout the album, the lyrics remain confessional and conversational, in a personal way. The song approaches a weight and depth that would be even more powerful when played live. It demonstrated the clear, dense sound the band explored from start to finish on this album.
The album wouldn’t be complete without the title track that ends it, though. Here, every sweet detailed trick that was used to color all the songs before is used to great effect, to create a swirling, cathartic blast of joyous noise. Notes clash and crash off each other while Enigk’s vocal lines float effortlessly over the music. “The Rising Tide” is also one of the album’s most dynamic songs, trading in the loud, anthemic quality of the verses for simple piano-and-voice choruses – backwards from the way most songs are arranged. The song is a masterful assassin, throwing killing blows time after time, repeatedly drawing the listener into its world.
The tidal motives throughout the album, as well as the dream references, serve as a wonderful metaphor on how to describe the work. It sounds like an accomplished band setting out to make something that stands on its own, and the band’s experience, the quality of the production, and the masterful songs make the album sound timeless.
It would be a fitting swan song, leaving joy and disappointment, too, that something this grand could be accomplished. Best of all, it sounds nothing like what “emo” sounds like today.
It was to be the soundtrack to fall semester 2000 at Indiana University for me and many of my friends. We all became enchanted with it. And so when Wes, Cory, Rob and I loaded into that car to drive to Cincinnati, we were traveling with baited breath, waiting to final hear and see what this band could do in concert.
The concert was amazing. Just as dynamic live as they were in the studio, the band tore through classic songs and new ones alike with aplomb, joy, and verve. The audience gleefully played along, and the night felt more like a celebration than a concert. It was the church of rock and roll, but of a positive, uplifting sort.
The band played so many good songs, many of the aforementioned of my favorites, some I hadn’t paid much attention to before but now found exciting. And the band seemed to have so much fun playing. Each of us at that show was in the midst of a religious experience – every review I read of the show all pointed to this, how powerful the band was live. It must have also been gratifying to the band that some of the most powerful songs of the night, the real show-stealers, were the ones from the new album. If “Faces In Disguise” and “The Rising Tide” were majestic on the album, they were even more so live. “Disappear” became menacing, “One” was a total affirmation with the entire sound crying “everything and everyone, and in the end we all are one, truth will not be denied.”
Hours later, we made our way home. We walked back to the car in nearly stunned silence. The experience was so breathtaking that it was hard to find the words. Then… we began to talk.
Rob was the odd man out – he didn’t play an instrument or sing, but was our biggest fan and supporter. There, on the ride home, Cory and Wes and I decided to form a band. We would return to IU and recruit a drummer, Frank, and a bassist, Nate. Wes would sing, and Cory and I would play guitar. And we sucked at first, as all bands do.
But there was something amazing about the way we came together. We tried to replicate that majestic sound, that anthemic sound, and of course failed, but we also grew. In a few years, with graduation upon us, and our drummer (who, like Sunny Day’s, was an important, integral part of our sound) moved away, and we became Spinal Tap when it came to bass players, we hung up our rock and roll spurs. The band, called Endolori (which was a French word meaning “sore or tender” – an appropriate emo name then and now), called it quits.
And that was the end of the story.
Until Frank returned from whatever wooded purgatory he had banished his hippie-self to, and made a phone call. Before long, we were practicing in his basement, him and I, and, before long, Wes and Cory were on board again as well. Our friend Chris played bass before he had to move away due to marriage and work. Another friend Mike picked up the reigns of the bassist duties and… Yesterday The Siren was born.
Nowadays, Yesterday The Siren is defunct, but I am proud of what we did for the few years we were together. Wes, Cory and I took upon the seeds that were planted on that fateful October night, and we grew what we could. We never achieved anything I would call majestic, but we damn sure did write a few anthems. And played with as much passion as we saw that night, with joyous and reckless abandon.
If it weren’t for Sunny Day Real Estate, I don’t know if I would’ve ever been motivated enough to really form a band, and to really work at it and push my friends to be the best we could be. By the time Yesterday The Siren rolled around, hard work was our middle name – we all put in as much as we could afford to, with families, work, and other considerations taking our time. We still made rock and roll of an anthemic spirit, the spirit of one of the greatest bands to ever grace the stage.
So, reflecting on that moment almost eight years ago, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to go. And so thankful that music could mean that much to people – to the men in Sunny Day, to my friends that went with me, to the crowd, to the guys in the bands I have played in since.
We were riding the rising tide. And I’ve been riding it ever since.
(all photos credit: firstname.lastname@example.org --- retrieved from "In The Blue" SDRE fan site)