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Eleventh Dream Day - Zeroes and Ones

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Artist: Eleventh Dream Day

Album: Zeroes and Ones

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Mar. 12, 2006

Here’s a record that deserves a warm welcome. Eleventh Dream Day could easily be afforded the same esteem reserved for Sonic Youth, the Replacements, Dinosaur, Jr. and other bands that served as precursors of the alternative-rock boom. The band’s life story even has some of the common '90s alt-rock tropes: a critically-lauded but difficult-to-find debut album, a move from Kentucky to Chicago, a live album at Lounge Ax, a not-so-successful stint on a major label, dogged perseverance, despite it all, and a back catalog that’s excellent and sorely underappreciated.

Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean started Eleventh Dream Day in Lexington in 1983, and along with bassist Doug McCombs (who’s also known for his work with Tortoise) they’ve been the stable core of the band ever since. After the success of their debut album, 1987’s Prairie School Freakout, they signed with Atlantic Records and released three generally excellent albums – Beet, Lived to Tell, and El Moodio, none of which was commercially successful, and the label dropped them in 1993. Although they continued recording new albums for Thrill Jockey, Eleventh Dream Day by and large stopped touring after the fall from Atlantic, and Bean and McCombs began putting more time into Freakwater and Tortoise, their respective side projects.

Zeroes and Ones is the first new Eleventh Dream Day album since 2000’s Stalled Parade. Like much of their work for Thrill Jockey, Zeroes and Ones owes more to their sprawling, Neil Young-inspired early albums than to the polished guitar-rock of their major-label work. Rizzo’s buzzing guitar, a recurring technical problem during the recording of Prairie School Freakout that became a musical calling-card, features on the first two songs, “Dissolution” and “Insincere Inspiration.” Beneath the bullish noise, however, many of the songs could be folk rock anthems. “For Martha” has some nice vocal harmonizing from Bean, and “Lost in the City” has a dreamy, meditative quality (and equally dreamy, meditative lyrics) once you get past the distorted power-chords that open the song. Stalled Parade experimented with Tortoise-like production and an expanded instrumental line-up, but despite the reference to the digital age in Zeroes and Ones, only two songs – “From K to Z,” and “For Everything” – have the adornments of Chicago post-rock. Rather, Zeroes and Ones, like Eleventh Dream Day’s early work, has the direct, immediate quality of a live performance.

With a new album and the majority of their back catalog now back in print, this is a particularly opportune time for Eleventh Dream Day. While the band is no longer a full-time preoccupation for any of its members and live shows are few and far between, people can at least appreciate their influence, rather than knowing them as criminally underappreciated victims of those fickle major labels. It’s never too late to reclaim your legacy.

By Tom Zimpleman

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