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Eleventh Dream Day | Prairie School Freakout (enhanced reissue) (Thrill Jockey)
Reissued to coincide with the band's twentieth anniversary, this expanded edition of Eleventh Dream Day's first full-length album (originally released in 1988 on California's Amoeba Records) is a timely reminder of just how fertile a breeding ground the wild frontiers of '80s Americana really were. As well as acting as an historical document of the Chicagoites finding themselves in the studio, 'Prairie School Freakout' highlights the potent democratic attack of the original EDD line-up of Rick Rizzo (vocals/guitar), Janet Beveridge Bean (vocals/drums), Baird Figi (guitar) and Doug McCombs (bass). With all four members penning material for the song pile and playing as if the world was set to end at the conclusion of the six-hour recording session (taped one sweltering June night in 1987) 'Prairie School Freakout' presents a compelling collaborative battle plan. The resultant mixture is a molten mash of unrestrained string-bending, grinding but almost groovy bass-lines, ragged punkoid backbeats and straight-from-the-gut vocals. EDD may well have found the missing link between sprawling seventies rock and trim eighties post-punk but it's the songs on 'Prairie School Freakout' that speak for themselves regardless of the sonic stencil-cutting.
Surprisingly literate for a band renowned for breaking the amp buzz record, 'Prairie School Freakout' is peppered with intriguing observational lyrics touching on small town frustration (Driving Song), twenty-something heartache (Tarantula), suicide (Sweet Smell), murder (The Death of Albert C Sampson) and what seems like a mental breakdown (McCombs's blistering Through My Mouth). For all its hammering riffs and rhythms, 'Prairie School Freakout' still has room for some relatively calmer moments, especially on the Neil Young-in-country-blues-mode homage that is Beach Miner. Moreover, throughout the record there's an unbreakable pop sensibility that nearly always manages to match mayhem with a strong melody (with Bean's bruising Coercion being a shining example). Whilst there are perhaps better, more rounded, entries in the EDD album catalogue (as more sonically sophisticated wares like 1993's 'El Moodio' and 2000's 'Stalled Parade' attest) there is little doubting the timeless sense of self-discovery and spine-tingling tension that pervades every nanosecond of 'Prairie School Freakout'.
Where perhaps this 2CD reload does fail however, is the reluctance to retell the full story of the band's early years. Two resurrected tracks from 1989's elusive 'Wayne' EP (the barnstorming Go and a cover of Neil Young's Southern Pacific) are most welcome and the vintage (CD-ROM-only) live footage is certainly entertaining for a couple of sittings, but where on earth is the indispensable I Hear Those Dogs Again (a 'Prairie School Freakout' outtake once issued on a super-rare fan-club seven inch) and who the hell hid the master-tapes for the band's superb self-titled mini-album (released on vinyl-only in 1987). But these criticisms are maybe only valid if, like your besotted scribe, you just can't get enough EDD squeezed into your swollen musical archives. Needless to say then, this respectful restoration undoubtedly deserves to succeed in its mission of alerting people to the beginnings of one of the best bands to have walked the planet during the last two decades.
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003