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Sunny Day Real Estate Reread Their Diary

The heartfelt alt-rockers revisit and remake their storied 1994 debut, taking a journey into the past that transcends mere nostalgia
Sunny Day Real Estate (Photo courtesy of Shelter Music)

Sunny Day Real Estate – DiaryLive at London Bridge Studio

“Novum Vetus,” the title of the only new-to-you song on DiaryLive at London Bridge Studio, roughly translates from the Latin for “new old.” Which is a good way to approach this project: Sunny Day Real Estate rerecording their 1994 debut at the legendary Seattle-area facility where Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam tracked their early work. 

In recent years, the touring industry has milked a cash cow of bands playing classic records in full, but Sunny Day’s decision to both tour and release an album shows a true commitment to the bit. The good news: Three decades on, the band hasn’t lost a step. Guitarist Dan Hoerner still plays ferocious riffs that can twist, crunch, or sandblast; drummer William Goldsmith’s fills have only grown beefier, and his tom hits heavier (enhanced by the far superior drum sound of this album’s production); and singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk can still hit those high, serpentine notes with transparent grace and aching sincerity, but this time without his younger self’s choked desperation.  

They don’t drastically rework the source material—which is often hailed as a landmark work of Midwest emo, despite the fact that SDRE arose out of ’90s Seattle and have more than a little grunge in their DNA. The only song that gets a major makeover is “Grendel”: While the original buried Enigk’s mumbled vocals beneath a wash of murky effects, here it’s sung clearly and sweetly, sounding a little like R.E.M. imitating early Radiohead. 

Live staples like “In Circles” and “Seven” sound as jagged and crystalline as ever, but the album really shines in its back half, with deep cuts like the enigmatic “Shadows” now far more muscular and coherent. Rather than chase their glory days, SDRE have decided to reckon with their past, and they rekindle plenty of old passion while adding a whole new layer of nuance. 

As Enigk sings in “Novum Vetus”: “All those things that came before / little by little the memory fades away.” As another Seattle legend sang, thoughts may fade, but the heart of Sunny Day Real Estate remains bright and burning. – GRADE: A-