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Damned Tree
ELEVENTH DREAM DAY – Riot Now! (Thrill Jockey)

Back in 1998 Eleventh Dream Day made one of the best indie rock albums of all time in ‘Prairie School Freakout’. I followed them for a number of years after that, through ‘Beet’ in 1989, ‘Lived To Tell’ in 1991, and ‘Eighth’ in 1997 and then the trail went cold and I assumed that they had broken up. Imagine my delight when I found a new album by them released this year, but it had to be tempered with a little hesitation as we are talking a gap of nearly twenty years here. I decided that it was worth the risk, and I have to admit that on hearing the first track all my fears went out the window. Now down to a trio with half the original members still intact, aided and abetted by Tortiose bassist Douglas McCoombs having a break from his day job, they brew up a storm and it is as if they have never been away. Opener ‘Damned Tree’ is a bludgeoning rocker with Rick Rizzo screaming to be heard over the guitar onslaught, and yet Janet Bean still manages to make herself heard on backing vocals. ‘Cold Steel Grey’ starts with a squall of feedback before settling down to turn into a four to the floor rocker, while ‘Satellite’ is superb piece of space-rock, with swooping synths reminiscent of Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’. ‘That’s What’s Coming’ is an uncharacteristic slowie, but is surprisingly tuneful, and Rizzo and Bean’s vocal harmonies really make it work. You can’t keep Rizzo down for long though, and a searing guitar solo is soon cutting through ‘Divining For Water’. ‘Tall Man’ does sound a bit pedestrian after what has gone before, although the guitar solo at the end does lift it above the ordinary. ‘Sonic Reactor’, though, is what the band are all about. A clipped beat and fuzzed guitar introduces Rizzo and Beans’ staccato vocal exchange, but it only takes one minute and fifty seconds before Rizzo’s guitar erupts from the speakers for one of his great Neil Young-inspired solos which lasts for the rest of the song. Time for a breather with ‘Away With Words’, where they pull everything back and present a plaintive ballad, topped off with Bean’s exquisite harmony vocals and Rizzo’s restrained guitar fills. ‘Maybe This Time’ is another great guitar-led rocker, and that just leaves ‘Not A Fighter’ to close the album with, I am afraid to say, the weakest song on here. But even ending on a downer cannot take away the excellence that has gone before, and while I can’t really see this album garnering the band a swathe of new fans, for those of us who remember them fondly this is proof that you don’t have to be snotty teenagers to make truly great indie rock.
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