I was shocked to discover that not a single Sunny Day Real Estate review had been posted on this website yet, seeing as how this band is regarded as one of the founders of emo. Rightfully so; Jeremy Enigk's unique vocal styling, the band's tight musicianship, and some purely gifted song-writing propel their records far above the rather weak standards set by "emo bands" nowadays.
Their debut full-length Diary, according to most fans (including me), is SDRE's finest offering. At 52 minutes, it's longer than the disappointingly short LP2 that followed, and was written before Enigk turned Christian (which resulted in SDRE becoming an almost religious-sounding band).
Despite the fact that most of Enigk's lyrics on Diary are cryptic, they are delivered very movingly. Even if you can't really decipher their meaning, lines such as "the mirrors lie/those aren't my eyes", "gifts and garage", and "I climbed mountains for chairs" please the ear. Not many singers can write abstract lyrics without coming off as pretentious, but Enigk is one of those rare cases.
"Seven", the album's lone single, kicks things off in grand style. The song is fast and, though the chorus isn't as complex as some in the other tracks, it caters well to both picky scenesters and mainstream listeners.
"In Circles", by far the band's most popular song, follows up. Although quite slow, this tune shines because of an amazing display of vocal range, alternating from Enigk's warbles in the verses to a mesmerizing group chant of "I go/In circles!" in the chorus.
Tracks 3 to 9 follow through in much the same soft/heavy/slow/fast fashion, with the exception of 7, "Pheurton Skeurto", a short, creepy, piano-driven masterpiece that serves as a breather for the two hard-hitters that ensue, "Shadows" and "48".
Unfortunately, there is a blemish on this record: track 10, "Grendel". It takes only a few words to describe this mess: directionless, no verses, and a sparsely-used chorus buried under weird feedback. If they had added some verses and cleaned out the noise, or even dropped the song from the record altogether, then Diary would be absolutely perfect.
Still, things end on a high note with the closer, "Sometimes". The ending is absolutely classic: Enigk screams incoherently until the song's abrupt finish.
Overall the music is engaging and diverse, the vocals are incredible, the lyrics are profound, the liner-notes are filled with darkly hilarious illustrations and use a really neat letter font. Even the sticker on the CD is cool. This record is breathtaking. I don't throw around the term "classic" often, but Diary is just that.
Even if you think you can't tolerate any music classified as "emo", buy this record. I guarantee it will change your opinion about the genre (at least about the beginnings of the genre, anyway). It sounds nothing like the gutless crap being released by a large number of labels nowadays.