Review Summary: Much like the cover, El Ten Eleven is on the ascent to something greater but hasn't quite reached the atmosphere
Throughout music history, two man lineups have always been intriguing affairs that often bring forth a fresh new sound. A bevy of bands have flourished from the use of only two members throughout the years (Local H, The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, just to name a few). More often than not, these bands rely heavily on effects and modifications on their instruments to make up for lack of members. El Ten Eleven seem to be the newest of these bands and the tradition of talent remains true. What has almost always lingered with these pairs is the tendency of many journalists to criticize with a lighter heart and be more likely to be astonished by their talents, a lot like the case with female groups (oh they’re so cute!). But even with this in mind, El Ten Eleven achieve sounds 6-piece bands would have trouble achieving. Bassist/guitarist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogerty make the most of what they have and “Ten Eleven” is an excellent debut for the bare boned post-rockers.
Now I know what you’re thinking, how can two people create such moody and beautiful music that is often associated with post-rock" El Ten Eleven sure as hell achieve it. Most of the songs on “Ten Eleven” are a mix of harmonics, synth and groovy basslines. Much in the vein of a less stripped down Tortoise. Though their approach to music is an unconventional one, they somehow come off as an accessible band even with the lack of vocals. What makes the band so special and unique in the threshold of gloomy post-rock bands is their ability to put a neat and optimistic twist to their sound. It radiates the feeling of a warm summer morning, drifting through the field. The colourful and beautiful guitars mixed with the groove-oriented rhythm section makes for some relaxing music. Songs like “My Only Swerving” and “Connie” are playful and make a great use of effects to enhance the songs and come off well.
What’s often a problem with most instrumental bands is their tendency to bore the listeners, but El Ten Eleven manages to debunk this theory quite well. Where bands like Godspeed you! Black Emperor rely on creepy samples and epic soundscapes, El Ten Eleven find their niche in keeping things relatively optimistic and playful. Songs like “Lorge” and the beautiful “Sorry about your Irony” both feature groovy and steady musicianship throughout until Kristian Dunn releases a flurry of beautiful harmonics. This ultimately helps the album emanate more of an organic feeling and gives off the feeling of a sense of optimism and wonder. While the band does delve into more ambient interludes on songs like “1969” and the first minute or so of “Central Nervous Piston”, the melodicism is still prevalent even in the ambient interludes. This is what ultimately sets apart El Ten Eleven from other post-rock bands before them, it’s their ability to put a melodic twist to their song-writing and emit a nice mood.
There’s no question the band is talented, but even through their attempts, the disc always seems like it’s about to get to something bigger and more rewarding but a lack of musical muscle is missing to get them there. Certain parts of “Central Nervous Piston” and “Track 7” have their moments of energy and seem to be going into a greater direction but due to their episodic song-writing, they can’t quite get there. “Connie” is probably the most satisfying and one of the more memorable songs on the album, which has to do with its more energetic music. But even with the addition of various effects, synths and electronic drumming, El Ten Eleven’s approach to their music doesn’t quite pan out as much as it can. It’s obvious the band has a tremendous amount of skill, but it seems like the band is in stationary in terms of their music, much like the cover, El Ten Eleven is on the ascent to something greater but hasn't quite reached the atmosphere.