Monday, August 3, 2015

Eleventh Dream Day's "Works for Tomorrow": Music Review

cover artThis Chicago band confessed on the liner notes of their first album a problem turned solution. After trying half the night to fix feedback on an amp, Eleventh Dream Day gave in. They left the distortion in, and made Prairie School Freakout a lo-fi success back in 1987.

Since then, major league releases on Atlantic followed. But by the mid-90s, as college rock faded, the band found itself back in the minors. There, they released some of their finest work. Ursa Major and Eighth feature moments of rushed intensity, soaring beauty, and sonic landscapes both  raw and delicate. While under the tutelage of Tortoise and Sonic Youth member Jim O'Rourke, the band shifted into a more electronic mode for Zeroes and Ones, I found that their least engaging record. Frequently incorporating the guitar assault of Neil Young into a heartland version of rock, the band, shakes off its torpor. Releasing its albums now on Thrill Jockey, EDD taps the renewed energy evident on their last album, Riot Act, with Works for Tomorrow, their latest studio effort.

Janet Beveridge Bean opens "Vanishing Point" with deft beats and boastful lyrics. Intertwined as well as separate from her partner, guitarist Rick Rizzo, the paired vocals remind me of Exene and John Doe in X. EDD channels the same intensity here. The title track, the roadhouse rowdy "Cheap Gasoline," and "Snowblind" follow smartly and loudly. "Go Tell It" settles for a bit of boogie rock; "The People's History" revisits post-punk. The first half of this album ranks with the best tracks from this veteran band's discography. The production feels as if recorded live, and the record crackles.

Fellow founding member Doug McCombs (also of Tortoise) adds depth on bass. Newer recruit Mark Greenberg on organ adds texture. Newest addition Jim Elkington handles not only piano and organ but guitar. This is the only time EDD added a second guitarist since 1994. The results prove fresh.

Eleventh Dream Day has long depended on the chemistry between Bean and Rizzo, backed by McCombs. While they never gained the acclaim they deserve, EDD delivers music grounded in heartache, defiance, and endurance. They blend touches of country, folk, the blues, and electronics into their indie-rock. Experimenting with more keyboard-driven arrangements during the past two decades, on Works for Tomorrow they find the right balance between studio exploration of tone and a live commitment to volume. Rizzo and Bean, trading off or alternating voices, enrich this exchange. 

Later on Works for Tomorrow, the band settles into slower moods. The final four songs take their time. “Requiem for 4 Chambers” suits its title, a more mournful pace that allows the keyboards more space to sink in. “Deep Lakes” conjures up as many of their past songs have a landscape in winter, desolate but with glimmers of beauty and hope. “End With Me” takes its time, too, opening up room to conclude this brief but deftly played album. When Bean and Rizzo ease into song before it, the ballad "The Unknowing," its wistful delivery recalls another longtime indie guitar-drummer combo, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. Like X and YLT, EDD finds solace in togetherness, and the emotions massed by decades together seep into the grooves of this feisty, confident album. (As above 8-1-15 to Amazon US. In slightly altered form 7-29-15 to Spectrum Culture)

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