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Another spectacular album from EDD
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 09/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Eleventh Dream Day remains one of the most remarkable bands in the history of Chicago rock. Though today they are a part time band--core members of the band involved with other projects, in particular drummer-singer Janet Bean with the great neo-traditional country act Freakwater and bassist Doug MacCombs with a number of projects, though most famously with Tortoise--they have never ceased performing live from time to time and have continued to release albums every few years, including the recent and quite excellent ZEROES AND ONES. I first saw them play live in 1989 and they have remained my favorite Chicago band ever since.
EL MOODIO was their first album after the departure of co-lead guitarist Baird Figi. This was just a terrible loss and while the band remained superb after his departure, his spot in the band has never been adequately filled. EDD was never better than when Figi was framing the songs with his wonderful guitar work, only cutting out to allow Rick Rizzo to play his wonderful, trashy Neil Young-style solos during instrumental breaks. The only time I have seen them when I did not miss Figi was the time I saw them and Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan filled in on second lead guitar, and even that was not quite as good, since Kaplan's playing is closer in style to Rizzo than to Figi. To see how EDD missed Figi, take any song off this album and compare it to "Dream of a Sleeping Sheep" from LIVED TO TELL. As good as EL MOODIO and subsequent albums are, they were never this blisteringly great again.
With Figi gone, the band invited Wink O'Bannon to fill in as second guitarist. He does a great job, though he wasn't quite the guitarist that Figi was. Apart from the partial void left by Figi's departure, this is a superb album. The songwriting is as nearly as sharp as ever, the playing as energetic as ever, and the singing better, with Rizzo and Bean working together better than ever. Although I don't dislike any EDD albums, I didn't enjoy their work as much in their later albums when they slowed the tempos down. They are always as their best when they played with a bit of fire up tempo.
The album starts off strongly with "Makin' Like a Rug," with great vocal work by Bean. "Figure It Out" starts off slowly, but builds up to a nice instrumental break. "Murder" has a wonderfully menacing sound, comparable to several cuts from previous albums. "Honeyslide" is a great song, with a wonderful, slow build up to the end. Unfortunately, in hindsight it seems to point to the slower-tempo albums that would follow. "That's the Point," on the other hand, looks back to the best of EDD's high-energy songs on BEET and LIVED TO TELL (not to keep referring to the departed Baird Figi, listening to this I can't help but think how magnificent the song might have been had he been contributing some of his wonderful guitar work during the vocals). For me, "That's the Point" is the Eleventh Dream Day that I have always most loved in concert. "The Raft" is a great song and really shows off what a tremendous bassist MacCombs is. The major musical influence on EDD was clearly Neil Young and few of their songs show that influence as much as "Rubberband." If you imagine Young's voice instead of Rizzo's, you'd swear it was a Neil Young original.
This is not Eleventh Dream Day's best album. For that you have to go to LIVED TO TELL, though BEET is a close second. Though I have to be honest and add that except perhaps for URSA MAJOR, I'm not sure they have in there nearly twenty years of recording released a truly weak album. Even URSA MAJOR is decent. But EL MOODIO is by any standard a really good album, one that any fan of post-punk alternative music will love and appreciate. In all the years I've followed music, the failure of EDD to be one of the biggest bands in the world has always mystified me. How such mediocrities as John Mayer and Dave Matthews achieve success while an outrageously great band like EDD never hit it big (except with rock critics) is a mystery. Whatever the explanation for their failure to hit it big, this is an album that no fan of alt-rock can afford not to have in his or her collection."
Solid record, but the end of their first phase
John L Murphy | Los Angeles | 01/28/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"My fellow fan and earlier reviewer of EDD here summed this album up well, so I will add only a few comments. I would not give it five stars, but I tend rarely to reward any album with so many. EDD tends (see my other reviews on EDD's recordings) to drag on some of the slower tunes, and they get stuck sometimes in Rick Rizzo's guitar ramblings. Janet Beveridge Bean on drums and vocals offers a counterpart to her husband's Neil Young influence and this album continues as the three earlier ones did in sprinkling a country bit of variety into the indie-rock, increasingly thick guitar layers. In retrospect, I wonder if Nirvana and grunge had an effect on the production choices for this album and its mood. It seems aimed towards the dominant early-90s preference for harsher overlays of sound atop melodic foundations and lyric angst.
As it was, EDD failed to stay in the majors, and this album, while continuing a strong discography, does show signs of the need for what would follow-- a long break. EDD jumped into the big leagues fast, and probably by El Moodio, as the title hints, found itself worn out a bit.
It's a good album, but the weakest out of this phase of their career, when guitar volume dominated. Not bad by any means, but not as daring. If you liked Prairie School Freakout, Beet, and especially Lived to Tell, then El Moodio will reward your investment. If you favor the band's later phase on Thrill Jockey with its Tortoise-influenced electronic forays blended into their guitar, bass, and drums core, then this album will probably not appeal to you as much.
However, second only to the (much more prolific) Yo La Tengo, EDD persists today in their own informed, literate, and wide-ranging rock that shows that maturity, for record collecting post-punkers, brings many more moments of sonic success and lyrical poignancy. El Moodio perhaps is a necessary pause that forced the band, after its release, to regroup and rethink its approach, and the decisions made enabled them to remain a respected working and recording unit a nearly fifteen years later."