God does not ordinarily break up emo bands, instead leaving this task to money, fame, the claustrophobic rigors of touring, or the ominous, omnipresent specter of "creative differences." So why did the Almighty break up Sunny Day Real Estate? In the early '90s, the Seattle quartet mesmerized sensitive guitar players everywhere, particularly with 1994's Diary, a confessional record fraught with melodic guitar, abrupt dynamic shifts, and the poetic, oddly voiced lyrics of singer-guitarist Jeremy Enigk. And then, divine intervention struck. One day Enigk announced he was a born-again Christian, stupefying friends and fans alike. The resulting tensions destroyed the band; the rhythm section ran off to join the Foo Fighters, while Enigk turned out an orchestral, enigmatically pretty solo record. Sensitive guitar players everywhere wept.
We rejoin our heroes in the midst of an equally enigmatic comeback. In 1998, the band reconvened (sans bassist Nate Mendel, who was still schmoozing with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl) to turn out the majestic, criminally underrated How It Feels to Be Something On. It toured, reconnected with the fans, and set the theology debate squarely behind itself. The group's new album, The Rising Tide, finds it quietly comfortable again. With the band reduced to a threesome (Enigk now fills in on bass), tracks such as "Killed by an Angel" and "Television" combine punk's intensity with emo's flourish for the poetic. All the thundering guitars and cascading vocals survive intact, but Tide adds deft flourishes -- strings, pianos, the occasional vocal effect. All this culminates in the excellent "Faces in Disguise," an evocative, synth-driven quasi-ballad only Sunny Day could pull off. With the band newly invigorated and touring with a great album and an equally impressive back catalog to plunder, this tour should elate the faithful and convert the skeptical. As history has shown us, not even God can sink this band.