Clip: Eleventh Dream Day
Eleventh Dream Day turns `Zeroes and Ones' up to 11
Published May 12, 2006
The idea of "ones and zeroes" is something that author Thomas Pynchon
explored on more than one occasion, writing in "Vineland": "If
everything about an individual could be represented in a computer
record by a long string of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature
could be represented by a long string of lives and deaths?"
That concept began to fascinate Rick Rizzo after the Eleventh Dream
Day frontman enrolled in a class to tackle Pynchon's dense masterwork,
"Gravity's Rainbow." Ironically, the classroom setting didn't agree
with the Chicago public school teacher, who dropped out of the
discussion group after only two meetings and finished reading the book
on his own.
"It actually inspired a lot of [the album], especially the title,"
"Zeroes and Ones" (Thrill Jockey), says Rizzo. "The characters are
unsure of what's real and are kind of caught between hanging on to
something concrete and losing it completely."
Or as Rizzo sings on "Dissolution," "I've come undone between zeroes
and ones/ The focus has lost its appeal."
Even with its high-concept, academic roots (another song, "Pinwheels,"
was inspired by a William Eggleston photograph) the band's 10th album
is, at its core, a freewheeling rock recording. Invigorated by the
2003 reissue of "Prairie School Freakout" and the subsequent one-off
reunion show with original guitarist Baird Figi (who now makes his
home in New Mexico), Rizzo set out to write a song a day, and while he
didn't quite stick to his plan, the process yielded seven new
tunes--five of which made the record.
Convening at Chicago's North Branch Studio, the group--Rizzo, Janet
Bean (drums), Doug McCombs and Mark Greenberg (keyboards)--blasted
through basic tracks in three days. Many of Rizzo's vocals and all of
his guitar solos (reminiscent of Neil Young in Crazy Horse) were
caught in a single take.
The band's chemistry, developed over its 20-plus years together, is
apparent throughout. Bean, whose sweet vocals provide a counterpoint
to Rizzo's bratty delivery, pounds her kit with the ferocity of a rail
worker driving steel spikes into solid earth. McCombs' bass lines,
which often play counterpoint to Rizzo's guitar, snake through the mix
instead of simply setting the groove. Most startling after all this
time is how raw and passionate the music sounds, as if the group were
readying its make-or-break debut.
"This album was the loudest thing I've ever recorded," says engineer
Barry Phipps. "Even behind walls in the control room I was reading 97
decibels." (By comparison, sitting front row at a rock concert
registers 120 decibels, a borderline dangerous sound pressure.) It
sounds like everything is right on the edge of breaking apart."
Phipps says the band pushed itself so hard during the sessions that
there were times he wasn't sure if they had the energy for a second
take. That live intensity carried over to Rizzo's acrobatic guitar
solos, where the studio was emptied and everyone watched from the
control room as the guitarist performed what Phipps calls "a ballet
act with the amp, [Rizzo] moving in and out to pick up on these
invisible force fields of feedback."
This same "ballet act" is what fans can expect to witness at the Empty
Bottle. Like guitar-driven albums by Young or Television, "Zeroes and
Ones" almost sounds designed for the stage, where the band can stretch
its legs and let the songs bend in new and unexpected directions.
"That's the best part," says Rizzo, of performing live. "When you know
where things are going that's when it gets boring. I want to provide
thrills for myself. I still just love playing."
Eleventh Dream Day, 9 p.m. Thursday, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
Ave. $12; 773-276-3600