Within about 30 seconds of the opening cut on the new Eleventh Dream Day album starting up, I knew this band was still as great as they were when I saw them at the (old) 9:30 Club back in 1990 or so. And now it's time to offer my review of their new record.
I could save myself a lot of time and creative heavy lifting if I just told you straight up that the new one from legends Eleventh Dream Day is awesome. I could just tell you that, Works for Tomorrow, out in a few days on Thrill Jockey, rocks in all the right ways. But I think that it's worth the effort to tell you how it rocks.
"Vanishing Point" rides a mean riff underneath the near-Grace Slick vocals of Janet Beveridge Bean to glorious effect. Simultaneously combining about a dozen different genres, the cut is a supple bit of nasty business and I dug it enormously! The title cut adds in a hint of classic Mission of Burma while "Cheap Gasoline" offers up something like what The Swimming Pool Q's used to do so well. The girl/boy vocals mesh and the hooks come fast and furious as the rest of the group cranks out the sort of music that one would happily call alternative from an era long before genres got so hopelessly segregated. The organ gives this one a retro touch which I also loved.
Janet Beveridge Bean unleashes her furious pipes on "Snowblind" which sounds like some unholy super group featuring half of Jefferson Airplane and half of The Standells, if such a thing had ever existed. A outright stomper, this is glorious rock 'n' roll of the sort that is in desperately short supply these days. Superb!
While "Go Tell It" succeeds largely thanks to its guitar hooks, "The People's History" charms on the basis of its sharp blending of roots rock with something close to the edgy post-punk offered up by early Mission of Burma. It's hard music to describe and it reminds one, again, of an era when bands like this took real chances as they climbed their way up American college radio playlists some 25 years ago.
"Requiem for 4 Chambers" is the male-voice twin of "Snowblind", while "The Unknowing" relaxes the pace a bit and unfurls a a more expansive sort of tune that made me think of The Reivers a little.
There was a moment back in the early 1990s when I first started getting into Yo La Tengo that I thought how much they probably owed to Eleventh Dream Day and I flashed back to that moment again when listening to "Deep Lakes" and its gentle vocal interplay and supple guitar/bass/drum dynamics.
"End with Me" closes Works for Tomorrow with a blistering yet reflective bit of guitar rock.
Janet Beveridge Bean and Rick Rizzo, original members from the start, ground the music of Eleventh Dream Day in a way that speaks volumes to the high quality of this band's back catalog and the era in which they started their rise. Risky but melodic, catchy but expansive, these are big American alt-rock cuts of the kind that few can do so well. Building on what The Dream Syndicate, Opal, and The Swimming Pool Q's did, and adding in something more modern and less rootsy, Eleventh Dream Day make music that rewards listeners searching for something genuine and direct in a world of ironic indie bands. Uncomplicated in its force, near-fusion-y in its executions, the tunes on Works for Tomorrow are sure to please both new and old fans of this band.
[Photos: Sam Prekop (yeah, the guy from The Sea and Cake)]