"Words! Book-words! What are you?/Words no more, for hearken and see/My song is there in the open air -- and I must sing." Walt Whitman wrote that some 150 years ago, but he could have been describing the music of the Fire Theft, the latest rock conception from the fertile mind of Jeremy Enigk and friends. Enigk was the catalyst in Sunny Day Real Estate, the band whose mid-'90s heyday found it the flag-bearer for the revolutionary punk offshoot called emo.
Emo took the power of guitar-based punk rock and fused it with the profound expression of wonder and delight so typical of Whitman. Never mind that the lyrics weren't nearly as eloquent; it was the ideas -- the big, open-mouthed embracing of every emotional nuance -- that typified the style. Sunny Day Real Estate broke up just as the emo-core kids threatened to make them superstars. Enigk then discovered his inner John Lennon with a seriously overlooked solo gem, Return of the Frog Queen, before reforming Sunny Day with a decidedly stronger prog-rock influence.
Once again the band broke up, and now comes the Fire Theft, which features Enigk with one guy -- drummer William Goldsmith -- who had been in both incarnations of Sunny Day, and another -- bassist Nate Mendel -- who had only been in the first. What's the difference between the Fire Theft and late-period Sunny Day Real Estate? Not much, really. There's still a whole lot of tricky chord changes and orchestral counterpoint, still lots of long instrumental passages with occasional splashy pop-tinged hooks. And yes, there's still the feeling that words are not enough, that singing -- or playing, really -- is the only way to express the outsize emotions one experiences when contemplating the pleasures and pain of life.
Assuming the river is a metaphor for experience in general, we can apply one more Whitman capsule review: "Others may praise what they like/But I, from the banks of the running Missouri, praise nothing in art, or aught else/Till it has well inhaled the atmosphere of this river -- also the western prairie scent/And fully exhales it again." Enigk's music breathes pretty well.