Maybe it’s all the Red Bull sponsorship that has been infiltrating the music industry, and the subsequent endless free cans of the “energy drink” that come along with it. Or maybe it is our culture’s increasing emphasis on the value of youth and the refusal to grow old. Or maybe it’s the fact that digital piracy has greatly reduced back catalog revenue streams for lifers who should theoretically be able to slow down and let the money roll right in. Or maybe it’s none of those things. Whatever the reason, it is getting less and less surprising when era-straddling artists put out a new record and it feels like a full-on rejuvenation, their best work since whenever your last favorite album of theirs came out.
Whether you’re a Beet booster, a Lived to Tell lover, or an Ursa Major advocator, Eleventh Dream Day’s 13th album, Works For Tomorrow, is not just a nice reminder of the Chicago rockers’ early vitality, it often feels as urgent and careening as any of their previous high water marks. You could slip it on between those earlier discs and the casual listener at least most likely wouldn’t be able to tell that they were made decades apart. In that regard, Works For Tomorrow can take its place alongside Dinosaur Jr’s I Bet on Sky and Superchunk’s I Hate Music, among others. One significant difference between them, however, is that Eleventh Dream Day never called it quits at any point, though they’ve occasionally gone on hiatus.
Since their self-titled debut arrived in in 1987, the longest Eleventh Dream Day have gone without releasing an album is about six years, give or take. After Stalled Parade in 2000, they didn’t put out another record until Zeroes and Ones in 2006. By that point, the band had slowed down from their highly prolific initial run, releasing an album almost every year starting from that debut through Ursa Major in 1994. Four of those, starting with Beet in 1989 and ending with El Moodio in 1993, were put out by Atlantic Records. Ursa Major their post-major-label record, was released by Atavistic the following year. Only afterward did they show any signs of slowing down, dropping their literally titled Eighth album in 1997 on Thrill Jockey, the label they still call home.
On Works For Tomorrow, the quartet – guitarist/vocalist Rick Rizzo, drummer/vocalist Janet Beveridge Bean (also of Freakwater), bassist Doug McCombs (also of Tortoise), and organist Mark Greenberg – welcomes James Elkington into the fold. Coming from groups like Brokeback and Tweedy, Elkington’s role as a utility player, moving around between guitar, organ and piano, seems to have given the band a creative jolt not entirely unlike when Jim O’Rourke was brought into the fold by Sonic Youth at the end of the 1990s. The spring in their step is audible right from the skip-strut drum beat that Bean kicks opener “Vanishing Point” off with, repeatedly promising, “I’m gonna take it from the inside / I’m gonna take it slow”.
Cork out of the bottle, the first half of Works For Tomorrow, from the fist-pounding title track strewn with crooked spring guitar solos, to the anti-psych freakout out “Cheap Gasoline”, to their spirited cover of Zappa affiliates Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s “Snowblind”, pops and foams over. “Go Tell It” gets into a throbbing journeyman rock groove, but the itchy aggression of “The People’s History”, a garage rock take on the ‘90s San Diego post-hardcore sound, keeps things unsettled. Rizzo and Bean spend most of the album gamely trading vocal duties back and forth, but they finally come together on the rousing red-blooded ballad “The Unknowing”. “The storm knocked the power out / Everything started melting down”, they recall in unison, “And I swear/That when I heard the rain / I knew I’d never want for anything anymore.” Like partners reliving a shared memory, not just finishing one another’s sentences, though they could probably do that too by this point.