Pressing Concerns: Eleventh Dream Day, ‘Since Grazed’

Release date: April 2nd (digital), August 7th (physical)
Record label: Comedy Minus One
Genre: Indie goddamn rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Since Grazed

Eleventh Dream Day have carried on. They spawned from the 1980s indie underground in the surprisingly fertile musical hotbed of Louisville, Kentucky. They survived the nineties and its alt-rock major label gold rush, coming away with a tale of bureaucratic incompetence and mismanagement to rival any other unfortunate band that got caught up in those indifferent gears. They’ve weathered the requisite lineup shifts (in the time between their most recent studio album and Since Grazed, one of those former members, Matthew “Wink” O’Bannon, passed on from this life). They confused fans by continuing to evolve their sound over a decade into their career, finding a home in the rich experimental music scene of their adopted hometown of Chicago. They influenced and were influenced by many of their Thrill Jockey labelmates, such as bassist Doug McCombs’ other band, Tortoise. In the 2010s, Eleventh Dream Day’s output slowed down but their new songs refused to slow down with it—in actuality, they roared as loudly as the records from the band’s heyday. Although their amps were too cranked up for them to slot comfortably into an “elder statesman” role, the band at least appeared to have settled into a lane. But then Since Grazed happened.

Since Grazed is a double album, clocking in at around an hour in length, which makes it Eleventh Dream Day’s longest record to date. One would assume that this means that they went even heavier on the Crazy Horse-style extended guitar freakouts this time around. But that’s not what makes up the bulk of Since Grazed. The opening title track doesn’t greet the listener with blasts of feedback, but rather the muted strumming of an acoustic guitar. Lead singer Rick Rizzo doesn’t even begin his vocals until over a minute into the track, and the song only starts to take shape when the first chorus arrives a minute later. At this point, finally, “Since Grazed” takes off with incredible vocal harmonies, echoing drums, and a triumphant lead vocal from Rizzo. It’s expansive, it’s dramatic, it’s both like nothing I’ve ever heard from Eleventh Dream Day and instantly one of their best songs ever. And it’s an early sign that I needed to throw out my pre-conceived notions of the band in order to properly take in this album.

Like the title track, the other giants of Since Grazed take a similar deliberate, skyscraping shape. “Just Got Home (In Time to Say Goodbye)”, the longest song on the album, is an immortal ballad that features haunting vocal harmonies from drummer Janet Bean and hints at a very deep well of emotion underneath its relatively simple instrumental and Rizzo’s lyrics. When Rizzo sings, “Guess that I just missed you, but it’s so much more than that”, he makes it sound like he has a thousand other things he wants to say but isn’t sure how. The appropriately regal-sounding “Tyrian Purple” does it one better, slowly building to a breathtaking climax of Rizzo declaring “I want to feel the power, bathed in moonlight” backed by the full strength of the entire band.  “Take Care”, which opens up the album’s second record, similarly takes its entire length to unfurl. It’s notably undergirded by a sense of urgency that’s ushered along by a tick-tocking riff and brisk acoustic strumming—the creation of the atmosphere is so effective that I almost didn’t notice the lack of any percussion until it came crashing in nearly five minutes into the song.

The final two minutes of “Take Care” are one of the handful of moments where the band lets loose some semblance of the Eleventh Dream Day of old. Since Grazed’s other two “rockers” are “A Case to Carry On” and “Yves Klein Blues”. The titular message of the former song functions as a thesis statement for the whole album, while the latter is a joyfully short fuzz-romp that could’ve shown up on a number of past Eleventh Dream Day albums. But some of Since Grazed’s most effective moments are the biggest departures from this sound. “Look Out Below” is tucked away at the bottom of Side Three, but it’s sneakily one of the best songs on the album. A tender acoustic ballad, the song is enhanced by excellent backing vocals from Bean and what sounds like some studio wizardry from piano/synth player Mark Greenberg. Album closer “Every Time This Day It Rains” is, despite its six-minute length, a fairly straightforward mid-tempo song about the weather and watching sandhill cranes fly over a field, among other things.

“Every Time This Day It Rains” is, like most of Since Grazed, carefully crafted to evoke simple beauty. It almost feels like a photo negative of their hard-charging earlier material, in that it captures something primal just like Prairie School Freakout and Lived to Tell, but takes a completely different route to do so. It doesn’t sound like their “experimental” middle period, either—there are no Tortoise-esque post-rock interludes here. As stretched-out as some of these songs are, they’re all tightly-structured and composed. I can’t help but be reminded of Comedy Minus One labelmates and fellow Chicagoans Mint Mile’s recent double LP statement of their own, Ambertron. While there are clear differences between that record and this one, both of them are widescreen statements by artists who had been working towards them their entire musical careers, even if we (and they) didn’t realize it. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Eleventh Dream Day have turned in something as strong as Since Grazed after thirty years of musical vitality, but that they did it by expanding and reshaping their sound is remarkable in its own right.

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