El Ten Eleven is a duo. That’s not just a basic biographical fact about the Los Angeles instrumental rockers, it’s something that dictates much of their music’s appeal. Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogerty, who use little more than a double neck bass/guitar, drum set, and (a whole lot of) effects pedals to create their bursting sound, live for the eyebrows-up reactions to “…and it’s only two dudes!” The impression they’re capable of leaving on listeners is akin to that of watching two guys stuff themselves into a tiny box, and then forcibly push the walls outward until it’s a large box – an M.O. that culminates with their fifth LP, Transitions.
As far as studio proficiency and riffs that will fall well on rock-tuned ears are concerned, Transitions is first-rate. Where it falls short is in its inability to define much of an identity for Dunn and Fogerty. Not only is there no room for lyrics in the El Ten Eleven formula, there’s nothing even remotely lyrical in their place, not even with all that electric guitar. Transitions is comfortable enough in taking its E major-loyal harmonies and 16th note-loyal rhythms and just using every effect at hand to play around with them until the result is “as much head nodding as possible” – best exemplified with the sprawling and euphoric 10-minute-plus title track that opens the record.
While Dunn and Fogerty want their music to exist in its own realm (they detest the easy “math rock” label), it still realistically falls right in line with the likes of STS9, Ratatat, or Minus the Bear. Part of what makes their music interesting is that on paper, it would appear to have been created by computer, yet is very clearly that of a real live rock band. Transitions, then, isn’t the kind of record that necessitates extra attentive listens – rather, it offers the most when absorbed from a distance, as a soundtrack to anything else that can occupy the parts of the brain where it can’t reach.
Essential Tracks: “Transitions”, “Yellow Bridges”