Chicago stalwarts Eleventh Dream Day have carved out that most perfect niche in the world of indie rock. Having survived a pre-Alternative Nation stint on a major label and with members comfortably working in other musical or vocational arenas, they can calmly reconnect every few years and discharge a torrent of Crazy Horse-like guitar wrangling and pained lyrical bloodlettings with little concern for their commercial prospects.
Now seems a great time for the band to return with their influences (Neil Young, Television) far past their creative primes, their peers in creative hibernation, and the current spate of guitar rock proving far less daring and dangerous. The world needed a rough-hewn reminder of how achingly powerful two guitars pawing and scratching at each other while a rhythm section spars alongside them. Works For Tomorrow does just that.
The linchpin to this new operation is the inclusion of a second guitarist into the fold for the first time in many years. And what a player they chose. British ex-pat James Elkington is one of the most versatile guitarists around, exploring folk playing on his own and, most impressively, in a duo with Nathan Salsburg, as well as backing up folks like Jeff Tweedy and Steve Gunn in the studio and on stage.
He’s the perfect foil for a player as fiery as Eleventh Dream Day singer/guitarist Rick Rizzo. On the album closer “End With Me,” the two wend together and then split apart as they trade solos throughout the song’s nearly five-minute running time. They balance each other on songs like “The People’s History” and opening track “Vanishing Point;” Elkington offers up clear, calm tones where Rizzo lays on a fuzzy layers of rage.
The hottest fire that burns on Tomorrow though is stoked by drummer/vocalist Janet Beveridge-Bean. Her turns on “Vanishing Point” and the convulsing “Snowblind” growl and snap in a way that will come as a small shock to anyone who has heard her otherwise lovely tones on albums by her projects The Horse’s Ha and Freakwater. It’s commanding work that manages to wrest the attention away from the guitar antics of her bandmates. And that’s not an easy task.
Bands like this often feel like each player is pulling in a different direction, with the poor listener stuck in the middle having his or her attention uncomfortably yanked and stretched. Eleventh Dream Day is the rare group that manages to keep those individual elements and ideas alive while still working for the good of the group. Heard on their own, you might not be able to make sense of how the individual parts played by Rizzo, Elkington, Bean, and bassist Doug McCombs would connect. Yet they do. Every time. And the sparks and conflagrations they create are glorious.