Essential New Music: Eleventh Dream Day’s “Since Grazed”

Eleventh Dream Day knows a few things about staying the distance. The Chicago-based combo includes two members—vocalist/guitarist Rick Rizzo and vocalist/drummer Janet Beveridge Bean—who were cofounders in 1983 and another—bassist Douglas McComb—who joined in 1985. The “recent” additions—multi-instrumentalists Mark Greenberg and James Elkington—are also musical lifers. 

But Since Grazed is the combo’s first record in some time to have been made with a similar degree of perseverance. Most Eleventh Dream Day records from the 21st century have done their best to duplicate the rush of the band’s Crazy Horse-on-45 live shows. This time, the recording process reflects both the times in which the record was made and the full resources at hand.

Warming up with a few club shows, then banging out the songs in a weekend wasn’t even an option in 2020, so why not pursue a more measured approach that takes full advantage of what Eleventh Dream Day had at its disposal? After all, between them, those “new” guys (whose combined participation in EDD adds up to 24 years) have produced, recorded or played with Steve Gunn, Jeff Tweedy, Robyn Hitchcock, Joan Shelley, Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples and the Mekons, and they have a set or two of keys to Wilco’s studio, The Loft. 

So instead of being pinned to a wall of churning drums and roaring electric guitars, Rizzo and Bean’s songs are draped in layers of acoustic guitars and strings, keyboards, varied percussion and even some flutes played by one of Rizzo’s progeny. Instead of power chords, the electric guitars deliver muted leads and nearly buried ghosts of feedback. While the performances lack the poke-to-the-jaw immediacy heard on 2011’s Riot Now! and 2015’s Works For Tomorrow, they reward patient listening with hooks buried one behind another, intriguing textures and an auditory mise-en-scène that complements a body of songs concerned with loss, transition, survival and the rewards of knowing people for a long time.

Rizzo’s earnest appreciation and wry humor are both intact; “Nothing’s Ever Lost” savors bittersweet memories, and “Yves Klein Blues” portrays the task of self-marketing in a culture where everything, even minimalist art, is branded. And the broadened vibrato of Bean’s singing balances Rizzo’s directness with yearning and mystery. Like erstwhile tourmate Yo La Tengo, Eleventh Dream Day has figured out how to make music that acknowledges everything the band has been through without dishonoring what lured you in the first place.

—Bill Meyer