Back in the day, when Jeremy Enigk, William Goldsmith, and Nate Mendel were still recording as Sunny Day Real Estate, it was their flair for coloring the ethos of punk and hardcore with progressive rock's pacing and stylistic breadth, which helped define their deliberate, emotionally invested music. SDRE quickly reached "can do no wrong" status in the hearts and minds of millions. However, inner turmoil of both the personal and band-oriented variety reared up, and it was too soon before Sunny Day Real Estate had bought the farm. It's been a rocky road of reunions, religion, and redoubtable side projects since, but the trio has been led back to one another, and a reformation as the Fire Theft. The band's eponymous Rykodisc debut doesn't skimp on the scope -- violin, viola, French horn, and a children's choir vie peacefully with piano, guitar, and Enigk's typically enormous vocals. But it is not a project concerned with upholding or continuing any sort of legacy. Enigk and co-songwriter Goldsmith (whose inventive percussion unifies the album) freely cross Yes with Modest Mouse ("Oceans Apart"), approach Presence-era Led Zeppelin with their instrumentals, and embrace a classic, unironic sense of melody with "Chain" and "Heaven." At the same time, those tracks are made fabulously, achingly poignant by lyrics that lance through any preconceived notions of emo or anything else, and pierce directly into Enigk's psyche. There's no crybaby posing here, no deployment of cliché. Even if SDRE had a hand in the popularization of the emo movement, the Fire Theft's music is much too personal to be anything other than a therapy session, both for Enigk and his musical co-conspirators and friends. "Heaven/Are you really waiting outside the door?"; "I'm going nowhere waiting for the future to begin"; "Lift back the veil that hides you from me" -- while The Fire Theft is steeped in ambiguity, its creators' strange journey must play into its numerous parts and emotions. What's wonderful about all of this soul searching though is its foundation in melody. The album has its drifting moments, to be sure. But a crashing chorus or epic melodic shift is never far around the bend. Its penultimate moment is the eight-minute finale, "Sinatra." Over cascading, perfectly mixed drums, dreamy guitars, touches of piano, and a chorus of questioning voices, Enigk dwells on adulthood and direction in unflinching first person. "Now that I've buried my life away/Can I dig it out again?" The Fire Theft doesn't make clear whether he can, and its search for the truth down arty indie paths might lead some listeners to look elsewhere. But Enigk, Goldsmith, and Mendel are still sussing out the passion, and stealing emotion back from labelers.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus