Initial Reactions (2012): Tennis, Dr. Dog, The Little Willies

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Tennis – Young & Old – [B+]: Deuce. A slight improvement on last year’s set. At times, I detect the influence of mid-90’s Sebadoh, and there’s a little more racket to match the indie-pop sound. Producer Patrick Carney brings a post-punk advantage, but unfortunately there’s no aces. I won’t  fault them for that, though. All in all, this is love-ly, and that’s no backhanded compliment. Net.   ("Origins", "Petition", "Dreaming")

Dr. Dog – Be The Void – [B]: Good and enjoyable rock and roll with a classic vibe. It’s hard not to like Dr. Dog, but it’s equally hard to love them. I think what they lack is a sense of personality. I mean, I get it. These are laid back dudes. They’ve played Lebowski Fest. But maybe they need to add a lady to the mix? And not just any lady, a real firecracker, a Neko. After all, even The Dude found his Maude in the end. ("These Days", "Get Away", "Do The Trick")

The Little Willies – For The Good Times – [B]: The Little Willies play well enough. Unfortunately, the song choices leave something to be desired. "If You’ve Got The Money" and "Jolene" = obvious. Think instead of Hem covering "Radiation Vibe" or "So. Central Rain." That’s grade-A song choice, the kind I’d expect from cosmopolitan musicians living in The City. Good times (but almost great when Norah’s got the lead). ("I Worship You", "Tommy Rockwood", "Fist City")

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Initial Reactions (2012): Kathleen Edwards, Cloud Nothings, First Aid Kit

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur – (B): Edwards’ first two albums are Americana masterpieces. Since then, she’s struggled a bit to make her next giant leap. While Voyageur has its moments, it all seems a bit tepid, especially given Edwards biggest past triumphs (see, for example, "In State"). Only "Mint" approaches that flood mark. In the end, this is a set of good tunes, it’s just that we’ve just come to expect more than that.  ("Mint")

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory – (A-): You gotta admire the aim. Cloud Nothings went from bedroom pop-punk to devastation post-punk in about a year’s time. Is Attack on Memory great? I’m not sure, but it’s a big fat maybe. The first several cuts are grabbers -  "No Future/No Past" nails a sound I haven’t heard since about the mid-90’s. AoM satisfies, but is it devoid of filler? We’ll see where this shakes out a year from now. ("No Future/No Past", "Fall In")

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar – (A-): Aims to put stars in your eyes. Canyon-carving vocals, fiery harmonies, and great tunes abound. These ladies sing with conviction something like religion.  My only complaint is that The Lion’s Roar could have boasted a little more variety. You know, more like "Blue", which hits upon a playful pop sensibility that’s otherwise absent. All in all, promising. ("The Lion’s Roar", "Emmylou", "Blue")

Career In Review: Sunny Day Real Estate (et al)

SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE

Sunny Day Real Estate formed in early 90’s as a three piece featuring Dan Hoerner, Nate Mendel, and William Goldsmith. After a few minor releases, the band enlisted youngster Jeremy Enigk as its frontman, and eventually scored a deal with Sub Pop. Their debut LP, Diary, was released in 1994, and although the album never achieved the mainstream success of many of their fellow Seattle-ites’ contemporary releases, if you were paying attention you may have caught them on 120 Minutes or The Jon Stewart Show.

Still, Diary was an artistically strong first offering, and the band quickly garnered a passionate cult following, only to break-up a year later while recording their second, self-titled album. The break-up was a mess, featuring the departure of Mendel and Goldsmith for Foo Fighters, an intense spiritual awakening for Enigk, and Hoerner’s retreat to a simpler life in the countryside. The band’s legend continued to grow despite the break-up, and while Enigk launched a solo career (see below), it didn’t take long for the band to get back together, and by 1998, they were recording their third album, sans Mendel.

While How It Feels To Be Something On was a big success artistically, something was missing, whether it was the newborn vigor of their early days or simply Mendel himself. They left Sub Pop for their fourth album, and enlisted Lou Giordano in an apparent attempt to go big time. The resulting album, The Rising Tide, flopped commercially, and the trio officially called it quits in 2001.

In 2002, Mendel, Goldsmith, and Enigk joined forces as The Fire Theft, a project that synthesized the pastoral aesthetic of Enigk’s solo material with the melodic hard rock of Diary. The trio released one album that year, which is their only release to date.

In 2009, the original four announced a reunion in support of Sub Pop’s reissue of their first two records. While there was talk of a new record, and even new material unveiled live, nothing has been announced as of early 2012.

Diary (1994) – [A]: Whether it’s the one-two punch of "Seven" and "In Circles,” the melancholy wonder of "Pheurton Skuerto", or the tragic/epic sonorama of "Grendel," Diary astounds from start to finish. Unfairly lumped with the rest of emo, this has more in common with PacNorWest grunge and The Pixies than Panic! At The Disco or The Promise Ring. Note the incredible artwork. A classic in every sense.  ("Seven", "In Circles", "Blankets Were The Stairs", "Grendel")

LP2 (1995) – [A]: AKA The Pink Album. Most of the songs defy traditional song structures and benefit greatly. While the recordings are ragged and unpolished, that’s ultimately what makes this album so charming. The band often sounds as if they are unravelling, throwing all of their emotions into something they know won’t last. The end result is the loveliest post-punk you’ll ever hear. Do yourself a favor and listen to "Rodeo Jones" right now. ("Theo B", "Iscarabaid", "J’Nuh", "Rodeo Jones")

How It Feels To Be Something On (1998) – [B+]: It may not be afforded the canonical status of Diary or LP2, but How It Feels deserves its fair share of respect, especially given the fact that the band found themselves short a man when Mendel opted not to reunite. The sound isn’t quite the ragged rock grandness of the first two records, probably due to the absence of Brad Wood in the producer’s seat, but HIFTBSO still sports 4 great songs and at least as many good ones. Overall, they sound just a bit quieter and a little more introspective, but the band didn’t seem to miss a step here and showed a lot of potential for the future.  ("Pillars", "Guitar & Video Games", "Days Were Golden")

The Rising Tide (2000) – [B]: This is Sunny Day’s confused attempt to make the next giant leap forward. It’s obvious the band was beginning to embrace it’s proggish tendancies a bit more, but unfortunately Lou Giordano brings a little too much of an alt-rock emphasis to bear. Lesson Learned: if you’re gonna go prog, you gotta go all the way (see The Fire Theft below). At times, Enigk sounds like he’s on a mission, but too often his activism comes off as mere sentimentalism. There’s some good tunes here, even a few great ones ("The Ocean", "Tearing In My Heart"), and the band still knows how to close an album like only a few other bands do. Overall though, The Rising Tide is a record without a cause and a noticeable misstep from an otherwise great band.  ("The Ocean", "Tearing In My Heart", "The Rising Tide")

etcetera: There isn’t a ton of non-album SDRE material out there, but the little that does exist is pretty great. "9" was the b-side to the band’s first single with Enigk. It sports a Middle Eastern tinge akin to "Roses In Water" and can be found on the Diary reissue. "Spade and Parade" is a classic rarity, lo-fi, visceral, and lovely, and can be found on the LP2 reissue, along with the impossibly fantastic "Bucket Of Chicken/The Crow" (see here for more on that). That rounds out the really good stuff, although there are a few outtakes from The Rising Tide that can be found on YouTube, but I didn’t think a whole lot of them. Lastly, when the band re-united in 2009, they unveiled a new cut at a number of shows that can be heard here. Otherwise, there are some demos that you can dig up, the pre-Enigk stuff, and an extended version of "48." As for the official Live album from Sub-Pop, don’t waste your time. The performance is fine, but the recording is flat and the set is short.

JEREMY ENIGK

When Sunny Day split the first time in 1995, Enigk didn’t waste much time in launching a solo career. His debut, Return of the Frog Queen, promised big things to come, but everyone still smarted from the end of Sunny Day, and it didn’t take long for Enigk’s solo work to get shelved as the band reunited in late 1997. Over the next 5 years, Enigk was busy either with soundtrack work, Sunny Day Real Estate, or The Fire Theft, and it wasn’t until 2006 that he got around to releasing the follow-up to Frog Queen, World Waits. The indication was that Enigk had grown up quite a bit (go figure), but his songs were still smart and his melodies gorgeous. OK Bear seemed to realize a fully formed aesthetic for the first time in his solo career, and there are no indications that Enigk won’t be continuing for years to come.

Return of the Frog Queen (1996) – [A-]: Short but engaging solo debut from Enigk.  The tunes brim with melody and wit, and conceptually, he casts a vision that points toward the English folk revival of the next decade. You get gorgeously intimate tape recorder folk in "Lewis Hollow", proggish glory on the title track, soaring and sweet acoustic pop on "Explain", and I’m pretty sure Radiohead got the idea for "Like Spinning Plates" from "Fallen Heart." Actually, I’m not sure about that at all, but "Fallen Heart" is one helluva great track. A great record worthy of your attention, even if you ain’t on the Sunny Day train.  ("Abegail Anne", "Lewis Hollow", "Explain", "Fallen Heart")

World Waits (2006) – [B+]:  Yeah, it took 10 years to follow-up Enigk’s debut, but World Waits more than satisfies. Enigk bears down on the songs here, focusing less on grand orchestration or a stylized concept and more on lyric and melody. When it all comes down to it, it’s just good to see him continuing to release music. In a world of confusing irony and hipster one-ups-man-ship, one can really appreciate Enigk’s earnest songwriting. A memorable sequel to Frog Queen. ("Damien Dreams", "World Waits", "Burn")

The Missing Link (2007): This is a curious release. It features four new tracks, two of which, “Oh John” and “Chewing Gum”, date back to Enigk’s early solo period in the late 90’s. “Tatseo Show” and “The Wayside” are both excellent, hinting at the pastoral pop of OK Bear. The rest of these tracks are re-recordings of five of the tracks on World Waits, and all are in some sense worthwhile. Not an album proper then, but certainly something to seek out if you are Enigk devotee. (“Oh John”, “Chewing Gum”, “The Wayside”)

OK Bear (2009) – [B+]:  A grower. There’s a more laid back approach at work, and one gets the impression that Enigk is moving beyond his former ways, but there’s plenty of melodic familiarity here. These are punchy pop-rockers for the most part, but Enigk’s magic touch is all over the place. Not the end all be all, but a promising reassurance that Enigk is here to stay. The wide-eyed wonder abounds.  ("Late of Camera", "In A Look", "Restart", "Make Believe")

etcetera: You can find bootlegs of affecting stuff like "Asleep Under Last Week’s News", "Christ Is Risen", "When Will I Speak", and others (if you can find his version of U2’s "Running To Stand Still", get it). As for his soundtrack work, including The United States of Leland, you’ll need to ask someone else. I’ve never heard it.

THE FIRE THEFT

The Fire Theft (2002) – [A-]: This was the first time since LP2 that Enigk + co had worked with Brad Wood, and the results are phenomenal. Truth be told, it’s the perfect hybrid of Enigk’s solo work and the epic arc of Sunny Day’s early material. I really wasn’t crazy about this when it came out, but every subsequent listen brings it closer to the heart. I guess you could say they moulded a new reality, eh? It’s great to hear Mendel back in the mix on cuts like "It’s Over", and these are just fantastic tunes. Do yourself a favor and pay attention. ("Uncle Mountain", "Waste Time Segue/Oceans Apart", "Summertime", "Heaven", "It’s Over", "Carry You")

etcetera: "Hands On You" is the only extra-album track that I know of from The Fire Theft. It’s good, but I can understand why it was left off of the album.