(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Recording review - El Ten Eleven, For emily (2014)

Finely crafted musical snow globes

Great music transcends technique. El Ten Eleven's music is built on an intricate dance of looped layers of guitar and bass, beautifully reactive drumming, and expansive compositions. Quite rightly, their live performances (review) exploit this complexity, making a show out of split-second timing and fancy footwork. But Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty understand that their recordings can't rely on mere visual flash to connect with the audience.

Listening to For emily, the music dominates and the band's savant execution is  just a footnote behind the finely crafted progressions. EPs are often just a stopgap between albums, but there's nothing lightweight about any of these three tracks. Philosophical post-rock melds with rock-postured power, glitchy electronica minimalism evolves into crystalline art rock, and noisy experimental wandering finds psychedelic pop in a hall of mirrors. Each piece takes off from a simple starting point and grows into a rich offering, full of depth.

Of the three, the lead single, "Nova Scotia" is my favorite.  I have no idea how the piece connects to the Canadian province, but I love the roundabout feel of the five and a half minute statement. The jangling guitar figure and aligned bass line remind me of Rush. Come to think of it, maybe there is a touch of Canada in the sound of open spaces and crisp air. The initial section is expectant, making the following part a revelation of refracting mathematical phrases. Dunn sets his loop and builds around it, but Fogarty's drumming has an organic feel that takes on an emotional weight. His tight rolls create a sense of determination. By the time Dunn crowns this phase with Northern Light shimmers, the mood has shifted from epiphany to a hopeful optimism. This stands out as great example of El Ten Eleven's balance point between brightly twinkling math rock and visceral post-rock expressiveness.

The other two tracks provide their own little snow globes of musical imagery. "Yyes!" grows from its minimalist beginning to a mix of thoughtful and forceful themes before revisiting its roots to wrap up. "Reprise" is best thought of as a couple of evolving pieces welded together via a fade out ending in the middle that sets up the more experimental second half. All of these pieces capture the duo's yin-yang musical essence: playful, serious, free-flowing, and structured. What more could you want? Well, more, of course, but, for the time being, we can settle for 19 minutes of El Ten Eleven's well-crafted excursions.

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