Thrill Jockey, always with the market cornered on touchy, but mature, guitar rock, with these Chicago veterans the current standard-bearers. With their 2006 album, first since 2000?s ?Stalled Parade,? they continue their journey back to a rough, stomping version of the Neil Young template, purer perhaps than the Tortoisey finery displayed on 1997?s ?Eighth.? Which, duh, they came by honestly, seeing as how bassist Doug McCombs is a founding member of that most vaunted combo. But the bleeps, the sheen, the burbly reggae bass are replaced here with what worked for Eleventh Dream Day on their earliest records: drones, raggedly trebly guitars, driving drums, Rick Rizzo?s abstract poetics.
At times, the effort to reclaim and recoup is audible, transparent: Rizzo?s ultra-arch lyrics on ?Dissolution,? the guitar-organ thickness of ?Insincere Inspiration,? shades of ?El Moodio,? framing an explicit statement of purpose ? ?I think the fix is in, I?m abstaining / I don?t believe in a change.?And check, too, ?Lately I?ve Been Thinking,? an alchemist?s mix of Feelies and Wipers, opening with a strict 4/4 chop animating punch-chords like in your finer garage rock. But it?s really a midtempo joint appropriating Big Rock lingo, repeating it over and over ? ?Lately I?ve been thinkin? / About nothin?? ? while the band churns and surges along.
So they?re looking back to their own past, to the past?s echoes of even deeper pasts. The Faulkner quote is ?The past isn?t over; it isn?t even past;? Rizzo?s version is ?I left a puzzle behind? (?New Rules?). What are puzzles for? Solving. Or at least, examining, studying, returning.
The going gets a bit more abstruse on ?Lost in the City? as Mark Greenberg?s vibes drizzle over a no-longer-propulsive guitar, patiently waiting for the rock-kick that does, incongruously, come at the end. The harmonically twisted ?Return of Long Shadow? is a strange island, languid and disorienting despite the gentility of Janet Bean?s background vocals. Happily, those vocals come to the fore in sweet, sly fashion on snappy pop number ?The Lure.? ?Feeding ripped pockets you relive your tales,? she winks, nodding to the nods to the past, knowing they?re here to stay and happily shrugging. Rizzo, meanwhile, tries his own hand at winsome pop on ?Pinwheels,? and while his touch is heavier than Bean?s, the song works, its slightly psychedelic drones sweeping upward in sunny harmony. ?Journey with No Maps,? the album?s final song, is an apt image: the band has looked back to guitar howls of the past for inspiration (?I see your face in mine / travel back in time?), but it isn?t limited by what they find going forward. They seek and find not a blueprint or set of rules, but solace: ?I?ll see you in my morning nap.? A far cry from the young, intense band whose rallying cry once was a song called ?Go.? The journey continues, but not for its own sake. 8/10 -- Sal Addays (27 June, 2006)