Music News

Sunny Day Real Estate

The punchy, introspective melodies of Sunny Day Real Estate are often clean and pretty enough that you shouldn't mind playing them for your mother. Yet the band has always maintained enough dark Seattle rain in its sound to wash away the sugar-coating of pure pop. Sunny Day has also cemented a reputation as vanguards of the Northwest's overcast sound, capable of crafting skillful music in the studio, then, from the stage, assaulting live audiences with the very same stuff.

Yet the humbly titled Live, a clean collection that includes tunes from the band's 1994 full-length debut for Sub Pop, Diary, and 1998's How It Feels to Be Something On, makes one wonder if the band ever left the studio in its pursuit of a "live" sound. Throughout the eleven tracks recorded at a performance in Eugene, Oregon, the Seattle foursome's delivery is Oswaldian precise. Vocal harmonics are perfectly meshed with the drifting guitar melodies provided by Dan Hoerner and singer Jeremy Enigk. Bassist Joe Bass and drummer William Goldsmith, who's done time with fellow Emerald City dwellers the Foo Fighters, are also on point. The most potent selections on the collection are "The Blankets Were the Stars" and the anthemic "Pillars," yet the power of both songs is derived not from the rawness of a live treatment, but from their inherent, studio-conceived structures. Without crowd participation or embellishment, both tracks sound more like B-side outtakes than live tracks.

Toward the end of the set, Sunny Day drops some of its self-consciousness and plays with a slightly more loose and relaxed feel -- the melodic ebb and flow of "In Circles" is backed by particularly emotional vocals. Despite the highlights, however, the recording suffers overall from a preoccupation with perfection, and the result is a palpable lack of bona fide spontaneous expression. No audience noise, no interaction... Considering the sanitized sound throughout this disc, maybe they should have just called it Sunny Day Real Estate's Greatest Hits.

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Mike Engstrom