If forensic musicologists traced the lineage of emo, they would find patient zero in Rites Of Spring in Washington D.C. circa the mid-’80s. But the Rites devotees in Sunny Day Real Estate spread the infection on a much greater scale nearly a decade later. Although the second wave of emo was underway when the band debuted with 1994’s Diary, the album popularized the dreamy post-hardcore sound that would define that decade. To re-appropriate Brian Eno’s famous quote about The Velvet Underground, more than 200,000 people bought Diary, and seemingly all of them started bands.
Many outlasted SDRE, whose internal friction broke the band apart before the release of its second album. SDRE cobbled together what became LP2, then dumped it on Sub Pop without a title or artwork. The band reunited later—sans original bassist Nate Mendel—and recorded two more albums, then reunited the original lineup this year to tour behind the reissues of Diary and LP2.
The albums, remastered with expanded liner notes and a pair of bonus tracks, can’t help but sound dated in the sense that they recall a specific time and place, but neither suffers because of it. In fact, a decade after emo devolved into straight-up pop played by posers, Diary and LP2 stand alongside Rites Of Spring’s End On End as the style’s high-water mark. Diary sounds more cohesive and impassioned than its successor, a natural reflection of the fragmentation that marred LP2. “The songs are a little bit more like parts being welded onto one another,” Mendel writes in LP2’s liner notes. The force-fitting shows, but songs like “5/4” and “Waffle” still sound great, and “Spade And Parade” (originally released on the Pushead 7-inch) is a welcome addition.
But Diary wins based on its classics, especially the formidable opening punch of “Seven” and “In Circles,” easily SDRE’s most beloved songs. The remastering is particularly noticeable on “Seven,” as guitarist-vocalist Jeremy Enigk and Dan Hoerner’s guitars sound crisp and distinct, where they once sounded slightly muddled. Mendel’s bass pops, locking in with William Goldsmith’s drums to showcase SDRE’s impressive rhythm section. The bonus tracks, from the Thief, Steal Me A Peach 7-inch, offer an early version of “8” (which appeared later on LP2), and the fantastically aggressive “9,” which reveals SDRE’s hardcore roots through its feedback and chugga-chugga guitars. As young as the band sounds on “9,” it captures SDRE at a transformative point, when it turned influences into something distinct.
Although Sunny Day Real Estate released two more solid albums, How It Feels To Be Something On in 1998 and The Rising Tide in 2000, this pair stands as its most important. Fifteen years later, they still sound vital enough to inspire again.