Small World
Jeremy Enigk Returns With a Low-Key Winner

I’m back. I don’t even have to ask if you all missed me – I got half a dozen concerned emails from regular readers, wondering if I had died or been deported or joined a monastery or something. It’s the first week I’ve taken off in almost two years, and you’d think the world ended.

Seriously, thanks to everyone who wrote inquiring about my health. I’m fine, I just took a weekend and went to a pair of concerts in Minnesota. If you’d like to read all about my exploits, I detailed them in the other column I posted this week, which should be in the archive.

But this column is for business, so let’s get started with a look at new releases through the end of the year. It’s pretty slim pickings, and I think my top 10 list is fairly well set in stone right now, unless something comes along and surprises me. December, in particular, is the most barren final month of any year I can remember, populated as it is with dismal rap records and best-ofs. If you’ve been breathlessly awaiting that new Bow Wow, well, then December is the month for you. But if you’re a Bow Wow fan, I can’t imagine what you’re doing reading this in the first place.

Starting with next week, there’s Endless Wire, the first Who album in a quarter-century. I’m half-surprised to not find a cover of Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money” amongst the tracks here – it would fit right in with this cash-grubbing effort. What I have heard is simply godawful. Roger Daltrey can’t hit any of the notes he’s aiming for, and Pete Townshend, bless his heart, ran out of good melodies decades ago. John Entwistle probably would have added some class, but alas…

Anyway, also out next week is the second album from jazzy upstart Nellie McKay, the new one from the Deftones (produced by Bob Ezrin, the guy who made The Wall), guitar workout discs from Joe Satriani and Phil Keaggy, and the new Copeland, which I’m excited about. Also out is Willie Nelson’s umpteenth album, but this one’s special – he created it with Ryan Adams producing and the Cardinals as his backup band. Should be an interesting listen.

November 7 sees Frank Zappa’s Trance-Fusion, one of three unreleased albums he finished before he died. This one’s a collection of guitar solos, focusing on his final tour from 1988. (The others, by the way, are Dance Me This, a synth-symphony album, and The Rage and the Fury, a collection of Edgard Varese pieces Zappa conducted.) That week also will see Skin and Bones, a live acoustic album from the Foo Fighters. I quite liked the quiet half of In Your Honor, so this should be at least enjoyable.

November 14 boasts a number of minor releases, the most important of which (relatively speaking) is the new And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, So Divided. What I’ve heard of this has been excellent, with the band expanding the sonic palette they tried out for Worlds Apart. New ones by Damien Rice, Joanna Newsom and Mark Knopfler, as well as the debut from Army of Anyone (Filter’s Richard Patrick with Stone Temple Pilots’ DeLeo brothers), round out the week.

But hark! November 21, the last big week of the year, gives us a Sufjan Stevens box set! Five CDs! Of Christmas songs! I’m not kidding! Stevens never does anything small, so his homemade yuletide discs from the past five years are coming out boxed together, in a lavish package, just in time for the shopping season. A likely more interesting box set comes from Tom Waits that same week – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards is part rarities collection, part new album, with 54 tracks separated into three categories.

Finishing us off are new ones from Spock’s Beard (self-titled, and sounding much more progressive than they have recently) and Loreena McKennitt (sounding exactly the same as she did when her last record came out, 10 years ago). And after that, nothing interesting at all until the Shins’ Wincing the Night Away in January. If anyone knows of anything else I might be interested in, something to fill those winter doldrums, let me know. And no funny emails recommending Bow Wow, you hear me?

* * * * *

With all that, I think I can safely call Jeremy Enigk’s World Waits the last major new album of the year.

Enigk is the much-respected mastermind behind Sunny Day Real Estate, one of the best and least-remembered groups of the ‘90s. Over four albums, they perfected a dramatic, melodic style, the ripples of which can still be felt in the modern rock pool. Since 2000, when SDRE released The Rising Tide, their final and most complete-sounding album, Enigk has been laying low. One album with the Fire Theft (3/4 of SDRE) in 2003, and that’s been it.

The title of Enigk’s new solo album is a cheeky one, but the record is, blessedly, another grand slice of dramatic rock. This one is more toned down, more restrained and more traditionally beautiful than much of what Enigk has given us in the past, but it’s no less a work of art. And Enigk’s voice remains a singular instrument, floating and wailing and carrying his melodies, and in fact the whole album, on its back.

The record begins with, fittingly, “A New Beginning,” a textured instrumental that leads into the chiming, clean guitars of “Been Here Before.” That song is a mini-masterpiece, and in its melody and 7/4 beat betrays a surprising influence – Peter Gabriel. At numerous points on World Waits, Enigk brings Gabriel to mind, both vocally and instrumentally, something that will no doubt cause the fans of Sunny Day’s first two albums to recoil. But the dramatic organ break in “Been Here Before” is simply irresistible, and should bring those folks back.

For all its grandeur, most of World Waits is fairly simple. “River to Sea” is a sweeping folk waltz, the strings and backing chorale bringing it to life, and “Canons” follows its repeated piano figure into melodic bliss. The biggest surprise is “City Tonight,” which draws on U2’s Pop period for influence – it is by far the most “normal” song Enigk has ever leant his voice to.

The second half brings the majesty, even though tempos remain sedate throughout. “Damien Dreams” is low-key and suspenseful, the rumbling cello filling out the bottom end while Enigk reaches for the sky vocally. “Wayward Love” is a progressive collage of vocals and acoustic guitars, while “Dare a Smile” adds mandolin and Brian May-style guitar harmonies to an otherwise simple piece. And in the title track, Enigk has crafted one of the year’s best songs, a mix of Gabriel and Death Cab that works surprisingly well.

World Waits is not the unbridled hunk of brilliance some may have expected from Jeremy Enigk after so long, and its quiet tones and textures don’t quite match up with the power he wielded in SDRE. But give it time, and the subtle beauties begin to present themselves. In a year marked by underachievers, Enigk’s commitment to drama and melody, no matter how sedate the trappings, sound refreshingly complete. The world was waiting, and Enigk has delivered.

Next week, a bunch of reviews, including Ben Folds, Deftones, Copeland and others. Thanks again for all the letters of concern – I’m back, and here to stay.

See you in line Tuesday morning.