Eleventh Dream Day – ‘Live To Tell’: Round 70 – Rob’s choice that never was

eddlttTom’s rules were simple. Pick a letter, pick a number. I ended up with E8 and so began at the beginning of the E’s, counted records until I reached the eighth and then pulled out the first album I came to.

I spend time thinking about my choices for Devon Record Club. There are rules to follow, often themes to be adhered to and I have my own internal standards and checklists that need to be respected. I think carefully about whether my records will surprise, delight or horrify the other attendees. I prepare and curate my choices and one of the unintended effects is that the one person who rarely gets a surprise from them is me. One of the reasons I like the occasional ‘Year of Release’ theme is that it restricts choice and sends me to records I might otherwise overlook.

Before I pulled out my randomly selected album, this felt like the ultimate extension of that. A choice over which we have no choice. Exciting! Well, maybe. One of the things it’s made me think about is what makes a good record to listen to and talk about. That’s because as I counted along the Es, I passed Earth, Echo and the Bunnymen, Eggs, 808 State (misfiled perhaps?) and landed in the middle of Elastica. Their debut album was the seventh record I counted, and thus had ticked by. A shame I thought. It’s a perfect record for generating debate and disagreement and one of the fuels of our meetings is the power of pontification. It’s also a really terrific listen. But I missed it by one, thanks purely to the accident of me filing it before the EPs I own by the same band.

And next up was this, the only record I own by Eleventh Dream Day. One the one hand: perfect. A record I’ve had for 20 years and probably listened to less than 20 times. A new discovery for me as well as the group. Except, I’ve passed it over when scanning the Es over the years for a reason. It’s a decent record, but one surrounded by more immediately interesting, rewarding, ear, eye and finger grabbing choices. It could be a wallflower, hanging in the back waiting for a chance to shine, or it could be just an average record.

Eleventh Dream Day, from Chicago, are, as they say, stalwarts. They formed in 1983 and have been releasing records ever since. ‘Live to Tell’ is their fifth from a list that, to date, numbers twelve. They’ve had generally positive reviews, but after a couple of records on Atlantic, of which this was the second, their shot at breaking through had passed. Clearly they weren’t in it for fame and fortune and have carried on making music together ever since. Inevitably I have to note that perhaps they are most notable as the other project of Doug McCombs, bass player of Tortoise.

‘Live To Tell’ is a pretty good album, full of rousing, alternative rock tunes which bustle through at a fair clip. They’re scuzzy, straightforward and have a little cowpunk stomp about them which is both endearing and energizing. Critics seems to share the view that they are influenced by Neil Young. I don’t get that from the songwriting or the playing, but almost every song has a pause whilst the band step back to make space for a slashing guitar solo. And that’s about that. I like it well enough and I’ve enjoyed listening to it ahead of the meeting. I just can’t imagine it’s going to turn any heads this evening, in much the same way I can’t quite imagine meeting someone who declared “Eleventh Dream Day” when asked to name their favourite band. That’s not an insult, by the way, although I fully accept that it sounds exactly like one.

So, it goes back onto the shelves alongside (spiritually, but not physically) other records, by Razorcuts and Surgery and Rein Sanction and That Dog and Tsunami and Scrawl, that I’ve picked up for unknown reasons and which have languished ever since. Maybe those ones will sound revelatory if they pop out of Tom’s random record generator. We’ll have to wait and see.

Update: I miscounted and the evening before the meeting, with this piece already in the can, I realised that the 12″ of ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ had been lurking next to ‘Crocodiles’ all the time. Which meant my REAL E8 was something different after all.

Nick didn’t listen:

Tom listened to one track: And thought it sounded pretty good. But hasn’t explored any further…


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