Sponge vs. Sunny Day Real Estate or An existential crisis on the meaning of the 90’s

I was talking to a college kid, he said the late 90’s/early 2000’s were probably weird.  He based it on this clip from the movie She’s All That.

So yeah, based just on this he was right.

We talked though.  It was interesting to get his perspective on things.  He said he didn’t really remember much before the year 2001.  I don’t remember much before 1990. We are 11 years apart in age.  It makes sense.

I went on a long rant in which I explained the positive nature of the 90’s, the optimism for the future, and the irrational fear of Y2K.  It helped me understand “the youth.” It helped him pass time as he performed his work study job of renting out film equipment at his college.

I continued my work day.

As the hours passed the splinter got deeper, the little thought on my mind that maybe I had spoken out of my ass on the 90’s.  The thought that the 90’s were nothing special, and I only remember them as being so because I was an optimistic young man living in the suburbs of a medium sized midwestern city and I didn’t know the reality of the world yet.

I started thinking about how many more records Sponge sold compared to Sunny Day Real Estate, and how anyone waxing nostalgic about 90’s music would go in depth to point out the importance of Sunny Day Real Estate while never mentioning The Flys, or Sponge, or any other crap L.A. band that sold millions of records and spent all their money on cocaine and impressing girls who were background actresses on Melrose Place, until they lost it all and had to manage a Guitar Center.

The truth is the truth.

According to the new truth, Wikipedia, Sunny Day real Estate’s Diary sold just over 231,000 copies.  According to this article Sponge’s Rotting Pinata sold over 1 million copies.

Yeah, one was corporate rock and the other was released on sub pop, i get it, but the point is the point.  In a capitalist world Sponge won.  In our nostalgic 90’s hearts Sunny Day Real Estate won.  So in the year 2016 who wins?  Who we want to be the winner or who made the most money?

And there you go, what was the reality of the 90’s?  Was it great?  Was it optimistic?  Do we remember it so fondly because we just really want to?

For every band barely scraping by, unwilling to bend on their artistic visions and values, that was inspired by Sunny Day Real Estate there is a band barely scraping by, trying their hardest to sell out as quickly as possible, who were inspired by Sponge.  In a world where everyone is equal, one is not better than the other.  However in the real world one is, and it is the band that was inspired by Sunny Day Real Estate.  Because corporate sell out music is for douchey hashtag visionaries and scarf wearers.

Hey pal, come see my band, we sound like #acraptakingacrap

Continue reading “Sponge vs. Sunny Day Real Estate or An existential crisis on the meaning of the 90’s”


Designing A Nervous Breakdown: The Best Album You’ve Never Heard of Who’s Influenced Everyone You Like.

Editors Note: This is from the archives, originally posted on July 8th, 2011

In 1999 Emo wasn’t a dirty word. It was an emerging scene developing out of the Indie Rock and hardcore set. Bands like The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, and Kansas City’s The Anniversary where building on the early 90’s post-punk scene and adding their own sentimentalist vibe to it.  Emo, short for emotional hardcore, had heart, good riffs and all of today’s late 20’s Anti – Hipster type Hipsters stopped listening to Ska and started to pretend they had loved Sunny Day Real Estate for years. In towns across the country kids were making good rock tunes with heart. They had the courage to tell a story and say something sweet after an early 90’s rock scene that was drowning in self loathing, teenage angst, and Seven album mega deals that made the men who ushered it in multi-millionaires who could no longer viably sing about depression.  The Clinton Generation had no idea their perfect peaceful world was about to change and just wanted to hear some good tunes and relax for a change.

The Anniversary was extensively touring the midwest and refining the songs that would become their first full length album,  Designing a Nervous Breakdown. The bands heartfelt lyrics and guy/girl call and response were accented by driving beats, smooth poppy synth riffs that built on a dueling guitar attack that picked any note that could be found in a power chord progression with a furious unfeigned intensity. The Anniversary was pure. Maybe I just think that because when it was released I was 17 and still falling head over heels in love with beautiful girls from my hometown like Heather Beck and Kelly Bray, and then subsequently falling to pieces when we broke up. If you were 17 in 2000, college bound, heartbroken, and into music you found some profound meaning in their only slightly above average lyrics that was getting you through the long winter nights. I wish that I hadn’t heard many of the bands that I heard in 2000, but I am very lucky that I heard The Anniversary.

Track number one on the album is “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter“, which acts as an intro to the album starting off with a creepy anticipation before busting into a drum led singalog verse that continues  building until the chant of “And I’ll march slowly and I’ll never forget How the music stopped or the feel of your breath” explodes into a punky explosion of honesty that shows The Anniversary can rock for some midwestern rubes and their hot lady friend. The last chorus of “And I’ll march slowly and I’ll never forget. How that black dress fell upon your white neck.Grand isle rests quiet this time of year. And i know you will be leaving soon my dear.” ends with an ever upward riff that creates a sudden contrast when Track 2 “All Things Ordinary” starts its haunting yet upbeat intro.

“All Things Ordinary” was the hit song that helped launch The Anniversary’s short lived ride on the early Emo Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels.

The song is simple: there’s nothing over the top about it. The lyrics are good, but not necessarily great. Ok the chorus of, “Will you stay near me now? Don’t leave this town until we’ve figured out, Between the two of us, we’re strong enough – I feel that in your touch.”, is kinda of Emo gold. The hook is catchy but not annoyingly.The video is an excellent, albeit uber-cheesey, view into the mind of young musicians at the end of the millenium. They were concerned about impressing Carson Daly and looking cool in their video. I know I was. Compared to the non-conformist conformity, exaggerated robotic emotion and art for art’s sake darkness of modern music the situation today looks downright laughable. But no one was laughing. After releasing the album the band went on tour with The Get Up Kids and Hot Rod Circuit while working on their follow-up, Your Majesty, for which they toured with the ultra cool Superdrag.

The other song of note on the album is “The “D” in Detroit” which also appeared on the Vagrant Records Compilation Another Year on The Streets.

The song is a clearer vision of where the band is going and best features keyboard player Adrianne Verhoeven’s charming vocals of any track on the album. The rest of the album is pretty all right, I guess, kinda. For every two decent B-sidesque songs like “Till We Earned a Holiday” or “Shu Shubat” there is an equally forgettable tune like, “Perfectly”

In January  of 2000 Pitchfork gave the album a snarky review, http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/199-designing-a-nervous-breakdown/, proving that even in the good times Pitchfork prided itself on being a negative publicity machine determined to shit on anything people thought was catchy and convincing you to like bands who completely suck. One may notice on this line graph that I have not made and therefore you cannot see, that as Pitchfork’s popularity and power rise music began to suck on a comparative ascend. Coincidence? Time will tell.

Ok. I admit maybe the title was misleading .It’s becoming harder and harder as i go on to proclaim. Deigning A Nervous Breakdown, the best album you’ve never heard who’s influenced everyone you like. However it maybe a high watermark of a sub-genre that may be the best you’ve never heard of that has influenced everyone you like. The original Emo made its mark on young minds but made nobody rich and famous. It’s hard to take one band out of a scene and try to explain why you think they were everything right and just about that scene. But I feel comfortable doing it with The Anniversary, because they represent a time in the music industry where a good song and hard work could take you fairly far. And that is changing also. Indie Rock is using its Clinton Generation online organizing skills (For which you can thank Howard dean, don’t deny a genius of our times) to transform the genre into something bigger than the mainstream. Many bands currently held as darlings of the blogosphere  sound a lot like The Anniversary, just with a fear induced edge. Designing a Nervous Breakdown rocked in a time before fear gripped, strangled and forever put its thumbprint on both  this nation and the music industry.

When the album came out in 2000 the scene was still pure at heart. In 2000, America was still pure at heart. Hell, in 2000, I was still pure at heart. The world didn’t end on Y2K and the new century seemed filled with exciting opportunities. I was 17 and the biggest problems in my world were finding new tunes to put on mixed tapes for girls and making sure my hair looked cool. Maybe it was a high watermark  for me also. Maybe that’s why, almost 12 years after the fact, I’ve decided to sit down in my Brooklyn apartment and write about a CD I liked to crank at top volume on the Winamp player on the huge desktop that sat in my old bedroom in Pittsburgh, PA.

It has occurred to me that maybe I’m the only one who felt this way about this band. Maybe I have in fact simply placed a song into the soundtrack of my high school memories and I am confusing nostalgia with brilliance. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything spectacular to anyone besides me and the band, but even if that is true it is still an accomplishment. Because if I can ever write a song that could touch a kid enough to inspire him to write about it eleven and a half years later I would say that my career had meaning.

They may have looked like midwestern rubes and their hot lady friend, but they were the smartest kids in a brilliant class and they made something undeniably pure, for which they were never properly praised.

Chaz Bolte