- by James Weiskittel Rating:10 Release Date:1998-09-08 Label: Sub Pop
You could argue that there is no term more indebted to a single musical act than the way ‘emo’ is to Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate. But while the genre would soon run itself off the rails in the early 2000s (by way of a seemingly neverending string of outlandishly cartoonish bands and bandwagon jumpers), there was something undeniably alluring about alt-rock's cardigan-clad cousin back in the mid-’90s.
While a compelling case could be made for each of Sunny Day Real Estate’s four studio LPs, How It Feels to be Something On may be the emo-forebearers most quintessential album. Recorded during a six-week stretch in the Spring of 1998, the band’s third LP was a reunion album of sorts. Following a two-year hiatus, (during which singer/songwriter Jeremy Enigk recorded his genius solo record Return of the Frog Queen), the band reconvened (minus bassist Nate Mendel who’d moved on with Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters), and began work on what would ultimately become How It Feels to be Something On.
Perhaps best described as an amalgamation of the band’s DIY roots and the orchestral tendencies that Enigk displayed on Frog Queen, How It Feels to be Something On opens with an instant classic, the bad-relationship anthem “Pillars”. From the chiming clean guitars to William Goldsmith’s unmistakable drumming, the song serves as the perfect reintroduction for the band. And when a tortured Enigk laments “I walk in circles...”, it’s hard not to wonder just how auto-biographical his words might have been.
But while Enigk and Co. clearly sound rejuvenated, How It Feels To Be Something On is no simple retread as the band broke a ton of new ground on the LP as well. The middle-eastern vibe (a sound the band would revisit on their final LP, With The Rising Tide) permeating “Roses In Water” is incredibly effective while “Every Shining Time You Arrive” is one of the band’s most emotive ballads. Meanwhile, the genius guitar interplay driving “Two Promises” and the expertly executed dynamics punctuating “100 Million” continue to round out what just might be the best ‘A-side’ in the band’s catalog.
Songs like the title track, “The Prophet”, and “Guitar And Video Games” highlight the band’s more pensive side, further underscoring Sunny Day Real Estate’s ability to ebb and flow collectively between loud and soft sections. “The Shark’s Own Private Fuck” is one of Enigk’s most impassioned vocal performances on record while the melancholic album-closing “Days Were Golden” provides a fitting sense of closure to the record.
While incredibly tight performances are there from top to bottom, the greatest area of growth for the band lied within that of Enigk’s voice. The enigmatic frontman had grown far beyond the mumble/scream playbook that served as his go-to for Sunny Day’s first go-around. And it could be argued that How It Feels To Be Something On showcased Enigk's best batch of lyrical musings to date.
While Sunny Day Real Estate may be little more than an ancillary footnote to the ’90s for most of the general public, there’s a small (but dedicated) fanbase that are collectively in on one alt-rock’s best kept secrets: How It Feels to be Something On might just be the best indie-rock album that no one has ever heard.