When purchasing an album by a band from Seattle on the Sub Pop label in 1994, one would have had some expectations on what that record would sound like. The sludgy, punk-meets-metal sounds of grunge was the signature sound of the city, so Diary was a bit of an anomaly upon its release. The hushed, nearly whispered moments that suddenly burst into urgent, crushing rock all held together by Jeremy Enigk's angelic vocals that vacillate between fragile and furious borrowed more from bands from Washington D.C. (Rites of Spring, Fugazi, etc.) than their Seattle contemporaries. It has gone on to critical acclaim and is often noted as one of the first emo records (though it certainly can't be blamed for what that genre deteriorated into).

The artwork found on the cover of this groundbreaking album was designed by Chris Thompson, who also composed a whole series of pieces that are featured within the packaging:



He was also asked to contribute art when the band released their "comeback" record in 1997:



Each and every one of Thompson's pieces Sunny Day featured within their records is fascinating and powerful, but the one found on the cover of Diary is not only his best, but the finest album cover that I've ever seen.


Following a breakup in 1995 (the reasons for which remain uncertain; Enigk's religious endeavors, or members leaving to join the Foo Fighters), Sunny Day Real Estate reformed in 1998 with a slightly modified line-up. From the opening moments of the album, it is very clear that they had done some growing up during their hiatus. That is not to say that their first two Lps were sophomoric or juvenile, but this band sounds weathered and wise, bold, and visionary.

The musical soundscapes in songs like Roses in Water, and The Prophet, are chilling and moving. There are moments when the band is weaving a dark tapestry of unsettled beauty, and Enigk simply calls out in kind, completing the picture wonderfully. Lyrics like "we were climbing forever, an infinite task. . ." perfectly describe the feel of this album; maybe a soundtrack for an epic journey, a photograph somewhere in the thick of things. And the moments when they arrive (like at the end of Every Shining Time You Arrive) are deeply satisfying.

How It Feels. . .is an album that keeps giving. Some may find Enigk's voice a bit jarring, or the dissonant guitar tones unsettling, but this also isn't an album for the general masses, and it doesn't purport to be so. This album survives exactly where it intends to, and waits for the listener to come to it, not the other way around.  More music should take that stance.

September 2014

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