Love at 20 – Time to Begin

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Austin’s Love at 20 is comprised of several members who’ve been making a name for themselves for quite some time (I remember drummer Mark Toohey as the man behind the kit for Lucidus in 99). Such backgrounds allow the group to bring an amalgam of influences to make a creative debut that’s as sharp as the cover art for Time to Begin would suggest.

Oddly, the band claim to have a huge influence of British indie rock, but opening track “The Look” has more of a resemblance to old Omaha circa the days of Denver Dalley.  It’s got extremely sharp guitar chords that battle from ear to ear, and a complex structure that didn’t really exist outside of the more obscure Brit pop groups.  Perhaps its the anthemic vocals during the chorus that harken back to that era, but nonetheless, its a solid lead track.

One might find that the band’s name sort of confines the group to a certain genre of writing, which comes apparent in lyrics and song titles such as “Let Her Know.”  Despite the leaning towards somewhat juvenile lyrics, which is just personal taste, this track emphasizes the bombastic approach that surely has built the band’s following around Austin.  Toohey’s drumming here is spot on, and the more creative he gets, the more powerful the group sounds.

“So Bad” celebrates Love at 20 stepping outside of the box.  A choppy guitar cutting in across a danceable bass groove really points to a group that doesn’t always follow their own anthemic formula, which is probably a point for future focus, as spots to tend to get a bit tedious with similar sonic structures.  “Time to Begin” also gives a breath of fresh air to the album, though it has some traceable roots to the band’s sound.  Personally, that chorus rings loud like something Jeremy Enigk would have pulled off during his best days of the 90s.  You can just imagine crowds with fists in the air screaming at the top of their longs, or at least you should.

Personally, the best run the band has during Time to Begin comes during the last three songs, “Hearts and Fire” and “Things to Come Pt. 1 and 2.”  Deep melodies and a sense of patience really reveal the craftsmanship dedicated to creating the record as a whole.  Maybe I’m just an old sad bastard, but I love it when the group slows things down, almost to a grinding halt, using the strength Mike Groener’s vocals to propel the tunes.  All in all, its a decent piece of work from another hard working band dedicated to keeping the Austin scene going strong.

You can grab yourself a free copy of Love at 20‘s Time to Begin HERE.

Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary

sunnyRating: ★★★★½

Long before emo was a curse word that you said to your friends, there were brilliant bands that were making the new genre respectable. Yes, 1994, and the music was absent of the whining and glam make-up.  Only one band really stands out in the early years, or at least has the ability to withstand the years of badmouthing: Sunny Day Real Estate. Diary was their debut, and although they may not have been able to top it, it’s the one album that stands the test of time, forever cementing the band’s legacy.

One of the most outstanding landmarks on this album is the superb drum work of William Goldsmith.  His drums fills are technically tight, and he sounds as if he hits harder than anyone else around. Each time the cymbal crashes, you can’t help but fall in love. Just listen to his work on the album opener, “Seven,” and you will be sold.  If not there, move to the next track, and the next; you will only gain more respect for Goldsmith as an underrated drummer.

One of the unique elements of Diary is the ability for the band to move back and forth between their soft and hard moments.  As the powerful “In Circles” comes to an end, you’re greeted by “Song About an Angel.”  It begins with singer Jeremy Enigk’s melancholy gentleness sort of wooing the listener, but steadily the band builds.  Enigk’s sparkling shriek breaks in, crashing upon your ears just as hard as Goldsmith behind his drum kit.

And herein lies the secret of the band’s success, even back during the early days of emo. Jeremy Enigk was, and remains, one of the most dynamic singers ever to walk the stage.  When he sings on key, you can immediately discern the power of his pipes, but he’s not a one-trick pony.  Let him break through with his recognizable belting, and you’ll see just why he captivated so many people for so long.

For me, looking back on this album, one of the aspects I love the most come in songs like “Rounds” or the aforementioned “Song About an Angel.”  Slowly, the band walks into a song, barely moving you, resting quietly on Enigk’s vocals.  Soon, the pace begins to pick up, bursting forth into an eruptive chorus.  And somehow, they even manage to break the formula near the end of the song, steering clear of the chorus altogether.  It all comes to rest upon Enigk’s voice.

We should be thankful that such an album was made, and even more grateful that Sub Pop opted to re-release the band’s work, with bonus tracks no less.  You can now find yourself vinyl copies of some of the most revered albums of the early 90s.  If you missed getting into Diary back in the day, then now is your chance.  Do it for yourself, and you’ll be happy.  If you happen to own it already, revisit, and you’ll gladly find that the band is more than nostalgia.  Sunny Day Real Estate sounds interesting and unique even today.

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Download: Sunny Day Real Estate – 48 [MP3]

Sunny Day Real Estate – LP2

sdre_lp2Rating: ★★½☆☆

Sunny Day Real Estate’s then posthumous second album Sunny Day Real Estate (or LP2 or The Pink Album) has always been regarded, at least to myself, as a mysterious album.  It was largely recorded after the band had already disbanded, frontman Jeremy Enigk and guitarist Dan Hoerner never completely finished writing the lyrics, and when it came time to turn in the album artwork, the band opted for the ominous pink cover (is it possible for pink to be ominous?) and simple song titles.

After falling in love with the band from listening to their debut, Diary,  I eagerly ran out to by this album the week it came out (Fun Fact: LP2 was actually one of the first CDs I bought after getting my drivers license) and listening to the open track ‘Friday’ I was thrown off.  Gone was the propulsive emotive rock I got used to on Diary, only to be replaced with mid-tempoed far-eastern influenced rock. My sixteen year old heart was distraught.

I struggled through the next couple of tracks, ‘Theo B’ and ‘Red Elephant’, knowing, at the time, that this was the last album this band would ever produce , and feeling a sense of disappointment in the bands swan song.  But on track four ‘5/4’ something clicked, the fragility in Enigk’s vocals and the instruments carrying it the first half of the song gave way to completely different band.   I played the hell out of that CD, loving every song on it, from 1:45 mark in ‘5/4’ on.  Later, after the release of the bands first post-break-up album, How It Feels to be Something On, it’s clear to see the transition the band was going through on LP2; relying less on the classic indie rock tropes and venturing out in to more atmospheric rock. 

That album deserves five stars.

This, the 2009 reissue, of LP2, deserves much less fanfare.  I don’t want to call this a cash grab, because really how much cash is to be made on Sunny Day Real Estate, but with the limited recordings in the bands repertoire is such a release warranted?  Sure, the album sounds better than it ever has, and the two bonus songs (‘Spade and Parade’ & ‘Bucket of Chicken’) are nice additions, but in today’s download friendly world, they are just a click away.  I have never listened to this album, or Diary for that matter, and dreamed of a remastered edition, I took it for what it was: a fantastic album that sounded great and was ahead of it’s time.  I would be much more excited about the remastering of Fugazi’s first several albums or the remastering of The Jesus Lizard’s first four albums (NEXT WEEK!).

But I have no ill will towards these guys.  They are embarking on their first tour with the original line up in years, and hopefully these reissues will pull in new blood into the fold of Sunny Day Real Estate fans, and hopefully they will release a new album that will erase The Rising Tide from our collective memories.

Go see the old-timers at La Zona Rosa on October 7th 2009

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Download: Sunny Day Real Estate – 5/4 [MP3]

Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear

okbearRating: ★★★½☆

You’d have to be living in a hole to not have heard of Jeremy Enigk, or at least his legendary band Sunny Day Real Estate; he has since moved on to focus primarily on his solo efforts.  His third LP, OK Bear, has just been released, and it’s a step in a direction that many will be pleased to see him pushing.

The opening tracks, “Mind Idea” and “Late of Camera” set the tone for the entirety of the album, as each song builds upon rising sonic sounds.  Organic songs structures allow Enigk great room for his ever-astonishing voice, which is one of the most recognizable.  As always, his vocals soar, seeming as if they are about to burst through your speakers, yet holding back with enough poise to carry a melody.

While some of the song features full band arrangements, a few of which resemble the sound of How It Feels to Be Something On, this is not the only approach Jeremy takes on the latest effort.  The beautiful “April Storm” reminds us all of why he was so enchanting in the first place.  Acoustic guitar accompanied by quiet percussion plainly bring the song to life, and Enigk carries the song on the back of his voice.  “Just a State of Mind” is another such song, wherein Jeremy lets his voice be your guide throughout the song.  Sure, it’s his voice that comes across as one of the more memorable elements in these songs, but that voice, for many, brings nothing but good memories; for those not accustomed to the vocal quality, it will win you over as well.

“Life’s Too Short” is the song that most recalls Jeremy Enigk playing with his old band; there is a sharpness to the rhythm guitar that creates that bombastic atmosphere.  His voice cuts through the song with a sharpness and a certain ferocity that is not present on the rest of the album.  It might make you tear up just a bit, reminding us all of what it felt like when we first listened to Diary.

One of the more surprising songs on the album is “Make Believe.”  It seems like an entirely different genre, or at least approach to writing than anything he has done before this.  Here you find him doing his best impression of a classic singer/songwriter, a place that he really hadn’t visited too often, despite this being his third LP.  When the song is said and done, you wonder how many more gems he’s got up his sleeve, as you could easily listen to an album’s worth of songs like these.   But, as you have it, the record is a little uneven, alternating back and forth between amazing and standard; once you put nostalgia aside, it’s nice to see Jeremy still writing great tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/10-make-believe.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Enigk – Make Believe [MP3]

New Jeremy Enigk

jeremyenigkFrom his storied turn towards Christianity to his involvement in legendary emo band Sunny Day Real Estate, Jeremy Enigk has lived a well-documented life, though unfortunately, it often is more tabloid fodder than about the music. However, this new tune shows that the backbone of piano combined with his voice still gives Jeremy that winning nod from fans.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/jeremy-enigk-mind-idea.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Enigk – Mind Idea [MP3]