Rick Rizzo & Tara Key – Double Star / Eleventh Dream Day – Riot Now!

With its sheer volume of releases and increasingly vinyl-centric tilt, it’s arguable that the current workings of Chicago’s pioneering Thrill Jockey label are straining fans’ finances as well as running the risk of over-supply and quality-control lapses. No such concerns can, however, be raised when a less-prolific elder statesman on the books decides to put out two albums back-to-back. Given that art-rock veteran Rick Rizzo has latterly made us wait 5-6 years between new albums, having a near double-delivery is a reward for our patience rather than an act of exploitation or self-indulgence.

Rick Rizzo & Tara Key - Double Star

First up from the Rizzo ranch is Double Star, a belated second full-length conjoining with Antietam’s Tara Key. Having previously cut the sombre, experimental and unfairly-overlooked Dark Edson Tiger for release in 2000 after a series of tape exchanges between Chicago and New York, the twosome have hooked-up again through internet-enabled file swapping for an even more alluring collection of instrumentals. Belying the digital-splicing of its conception, Double Star is a far warmer, less austere and much more analogue-sounding affair than its predecessor. Also, whereas Dark Edson Tiger opted for more individualised set-pieces, Double Star has a more even and easier flow, with layered electro-acoustic arrangements adding a more ruralised dimension to Rizzo and Key’s symbiotic sonic connections.

Throughout, obvious yet complimentary comparisons can be made with the soundtrack works of Yo La Tengo – with whom the twosome have previously toured and collaborated – particularly on the jangle-twang of “Jagged Naught” and the burbling “Interruptive Organ.” Nods are also noticeable to the understated magic conjured-up by Windsor For The Derby since 2002’s The Emotional Rescuer LP, through the luminous likes of “Hungry” and “Forgiven.”  Elsewhere, there are shades of Brian Eno’s elliptical explorations with Robert Fripp (“Descending Comment” and “BWG Stately”), hints of a less arrogant Mogwai (“Yes I Wait”) and hues of Bardo Pond’s trance-inducing psychedelia (for the album’s sole electric guitar churner, “Insanity Stomp”). However, with everything fitting into a wonderfully cohesive whole such cross-referencing just detracts from enjoying what is quite simply one of the most sublime wordless albums of recent times.  The only minor qualm about Double Star relates to its very limited vinyl-only run, which may cruelly deprive it of the wider attention and audiophile appreciation it so demonstratively deserves.

Rick Rizzo & Tara Key – “Hungry”

Eleventh Dream Day - Riot Now!

With the subtle yet strong Double Star being a fresh career-high for Rizzo, somewhat inevitably his long-awaited new album as the singing, guitar-slinging and songwriting head of Eleventh Dream Day sounds blunter and weaker in contrast, on inaugural airings that is. Seemingly taking cues from its Black Flag/Minutemen-indebted front cover, the invectively anointed Riot Now! initially comes across as a little too forced in its desire to recapture the ragged intensity that propelled the band’s ‘80s-to-‘90s wares, when something as multi-speed and eclectic as 2000’s superb Stalled Parade might have been more welcome.  Thus, the opening no-fidelity scuzz of “Damned Tree” appears to have the foursome stumble at the first hurdle, with dissonance being prioritised over any concessions to tunefulness. Yet as with any EDD album, it doesn’t take long for ingrained melodic instincts to seize the reins.

So, the catalytic twin-vocal synergy between Rizzo and drummer Janet Beveridge Bean ignites properly on the ensuing “Cold Steel Grey,” which in turn bleeds into the searing “Satellite,” with Doug McCombs’ rubbery bass and Mark Greenberg’s auxiliary keyboards bringing in a throbbing Krautrock undertow. The gnarly fusions of the introductory trio of tracks become more refined and tighter as the record progresses into a more loveably rugged and rounded beast – albeit without the relative polish that cost some dynamic edge on the group’s last LP, 2006’s Zeroes And Ones. Hence, there are some gloriously potent moves derived from EDD’s trademark Marquee Moon vs. Zuma twisting, twining and thrusting that manifest in the chugging “Divining For Water,” the turbulent “Tall Man,” the sinewy “Sonic Reactor” and the organ-fired “Maybe This Time.”  But for all the poised noise, the two most successful moments on Riot Now! – namely the slow-burning “That’s What’s Coming” and the desolate “Away With Words” – come from EDD’s more serene trajectories, which revisit the blissful space-rock orbits previously circled on the band’s El Moodio and Ursa Major long-players.

After acclimatising to both its barbs and beauty, perhaps the only remaining disappointment applicable to the record is the lack of compositions led solely by Janet Bean’s already well-proven pipes and penmanship. As some compensation though, her vocal-booth companionship to Rick Rizzo is possibly stronger and gutsier than ever. Once the bipolar personality of Riot Now! is reconciled as one complete, if still conflicted, character then ultimately it stands up as a tough but redemptive addition to the already exceptional Eleventh Dream Day canon.

Eleventh Dream Day – “Satellite”

Thrill Jockey