Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Mix: Eleventh Dream Day

As far as single artist mixes go, this one's pretty incomplete, more of a narrow sampler than a fair overview of an artist. Chicago-based Eleventh Dream Day have been kicking around, on & off and in various formations, since the mid-80s, but this mix (and my interest in the band) focuses on their trio of great, guitar-driven albums from 89-93. Which means I skip their noisier, lo-fi post-punk early work and the series of more sedate, moody albums they've been steadily issuing over the past decade and a half. Leaving 80 minutes of sheer sonic joy, when bandleader Rick Rizzo was a force to be reckoned with.

EDD draw their sound in large part from the dark post-punk Americana of, say, Dream Syndicate, with raging leads straight out of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse songbook; dual guitar lines suggest hints of Television and early Feelies; the occasional blending of male/female vox also brings to mind X and jangle-popsters the Reivers. But the most obvious analogy is Yo La Tengo. Vocalist with a Lou Reed-infused sing/speak vocal style? Check. Petite wife on drums and occasional vocals? Check. Building rhythms culminating in screeching guitar solos begging for more volume than your stereo can muster? Check.

Their first solid album was 1989's Beet, and it's a doozy. Loads of killer tunes, and very little filler. "Testify" is bluesy and intense. "Bomb The Mars Hotel" is a delightful, boisterous tirade about blowing away deadheads, and, while I suppose I might be among the targets of such a purge, it's hard not to smile when Rizzo screams "No more dancing bears!" with twisted fury. And my favorite track's always been "Teenage Pin Queen," five minutes of slice-of-middle-America drawn from a roadside bowling alley, quiet guitar finger picking building to a stabbing frenzy and fading to a quiet coda. It's freakin' awesome, folks.

The band then peaked with 1991's Lived To Tell. Not a dramatic change from Beet, though the songs are even more consistently strong. Drummer Janet Bean gets a more pronounced role, bringing a bit of a pop sensibility to some of the tunes. There's also a bit more dramatic range, plenty of rave-ups but also some slower tunes where Rizzo's guitars have time to stretch out a bit. Hard to pick a fave here, though I'm partial to the one Bean vocal lead, the straightforward pop-punk "You Know What It Is," which sounds like a long lost Nuggets track as covered by Sleater-Kinney.

If there's any weakness to these two albums, it's the paper-thin production, with little low-end to be found (I have the original versions of the cd's; they were later reissued, but dunno if they compensated for this with any remastering). The production gets beefed up on 1993's El Moodio, the final album before they left their label and starting trying out some new sounds. This time, there's far more pop, far more bass, and some of the band's best work; on the flip side, the tracks are much more hit & miss (like later work), with a handful of slower tunes which meander a bit too much for my taste. Still, it's worth owning simply for "After This Time Is Gone," one of the great lost indie-pop tracks of the 90s. Shimmering, jangly guitars, Rizzo & Bean's vox intertwined perfectly, and an absolutely killer hook. Nearly as good is "Makin' Like A Rug," Bean's vocal spotlight, with a three-chord hook accented by a buzzsaw bassline and murder ballad lyrics to (literally) die for. "That's The Point" is another shot of punk-pop simplicity. A few other solid upbeat tracks reminiscent of the prior two albums as well, but, like I said, a handful of skippable tracks as well.

So there you go. You can probably find these albums in a cut-out bin somewhere, and you really need to check 'em out.


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