Jeremy Enigk: OK Bear

The former Sunny Day Real Estate frontman becomes a little less rough around the edges on his latest solo effort, a slow-boiling collection of arty, intelligent post-emo rock filled with spiritual imagery.

Jeremy Enigk

OK Bear

Label: Lewis Hollow
US Release Date: 2009-05-12
Label Website

Compared to the emo artists with which he is often (and usually inappropariately) grouped, Jeremy Enigk has always displayed more maturity, intelligence, and depth in his music. While bands like Dashboard Confessional and the Promise Ring were reaching their artistic peak with a brand of poppy, punk-inspired rock that expressed relationship woes and adolescent angst in a very literal (and often whiney) manner, Enigk was delving into art-rock, folk, and Americana in order to make sense of issues a bit beyond the general malaise, alienation, and boredom of his peers -- and doing so using music and lyrics which displayed greater sophistication and sensitivity than most bands out there.

During his decade-long association with Sunny Day Real Estate, Enigk never sacrificed substance for the sake of commercial appeal. And even though this approach surely lost him income, it certainly won him critical respect and fan loyalty -- an increasingly rare phenomenon in the world of popular music.

Enigk's music was at turns emotionally dense and euphoric, anthemic and provincial, difficult and accessible, angular and pastoral, often seeming to owe more to '70s theatrical rockers like David Bowie and Queen than '80s emo progenitors like Rites of Spring and Fugazi. And even when Enigk got god, his music never became overtly religious, devoutly simplistic, or preachy, but rather subtly reflected something more magical, ethereal, and elusive. Over his ten-plus years as a solo artist, too, Enigk's output has been rife with emotional honesty, an extension of his work with Sunny Day Real Estate. And he continues down that path on OK Bear.

Musically, OK Bear isn't a huge departure from Enigk's previous solo work. He has certainly become a little less rough around the edges. Where he once used distortion and dissonant guitar passages with Sunny Day Real Estate, he now prefers delicate orchestration and acoustic guitar stanzas. The harmonies are still as dense and powerful as ever, but the edge has been dulled. However, whatever OK Bear lacks in in-your-face ferocity, it makes up for with intricacy and layers. The album shows us an artist who has continued to grow into a better songwriter. Like much of Enigk's discography, OK Bear is a slow-boiler; it takes a handful of listens before the album's melodies and subtle beauty reveal themselves. But once that happens, you'll be glad you made the effort.

Lyrically, OK Bear bears the stamp of Enigk's faith perhaps more strongly than any of his previous work. And that proves to be a bit of a distraction from the album's excellent music. It's not necessarily that OK Bear is filled with a literal discussion of religion or proselytizing verbiage; in fact, as mentioned earlier, Enigk has generally been good about singing about his faith in a universal-sounding way. But this album, more than Enigk's previous efforts, is chock-full of open-ended imagery, metaphors, and ambiguous references that can make the non-believer feel marginally in need of a shower.

"Mind Idea", the album's opening track, is the most instantly accessible song on OK Bear. With Enigk's trademark high-pitched piercing vocals, a strong backbeat, and copious amounts of fuzzy distortion, it's the closest Enigk has gotten to Sunny Day Real Estate territory in some time. But while this music is the most immediate of anything on OK Bear, the song's lyrics are what stand out most. It's the most overt display of Enigk's faith on record, and its salvation theme sets the lyrical tone for the rest of the album: "Steeples built upon graves / Every delight bloom / We're marching through / Desire finds it's way home to you / Design by your grace we live on".

"Life's Too Short" features angular, distorted guitar arpeggios and falsetto vocals that are also vaguely reminiscent of Enigk's work with Sunny Day Real Estate. The song features the album's smartest and most poignant lyrics, which are filled with double meaning as Enigk discusses the self-consciousness he feels about his faith and the world around him, particularly among his own friends: "But knotted up in my mind / I'm the joke of the room / Tattoo harmony / I saw in paradise glow / Had me down on my knees".

Other standouts include "Same Side Imaginary", which starts off with gentle acoustic guitar strumming and gradually builds up into a frenzy of rockage; "Restart", a rock gem filled with jangly guitars and infectious hooks; and "Make Believe", a bittersweet, achingly beautiful ballad.

Whatever your views on spiritual music, there's no denying the sonic excellence of OK Bear. It's more proof that Jeremey Enigk has far surpassed his "emo" peers in terms of songwriting. Fans of his Sunny Day Real Estate and Fire Theft days should be satisfied here. However, those who cringe at spiritual lyrics that make multiple references to the powers that be (and not as an ironic allusion to the Joss Whedon-verse) may need to look elsewhere.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.