Home > Interview, Review > El Ten Eleven at the Middle East Downstairs (courtesy of Matt Burton)

El Ten Eleven at the Middle East Downstairs (courtesy of Matt Burton)

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

El Ten Eleven opens their Monday night show at the Middle East with an upbeat, punchy bass line, followed by a layering of melodic and harmonic lines that sounds like it would take three or four guitarists to handle. Yet El Ten Eleven is only two people, Kristian Dunn (bass) and Tim Fogarty (drums). Although fans are quick to recognize the iconic double neck Carvin guitar/bass that is responsible for many of the bands songs, Kristian says that he considers himself a bassist, “Most of what I do on guitar is just messing around,” having grown up working out songs from his favorite bands in his youth. “We didn’t have tabs back then,” he says, “I’d spend hours in my bedroom trying to figure out songs” from his favorite bands. As the band follows up their opening song (from their currently in progress next album) with two songs off of their second album “Every Direction is North”, it’s easy to see that this perseverance has paid off. The two-piece sounds as tight live as they do on the recordings, which is impressive considering the amount of material and gear they have to manage. But unlike electronica duo Ratatat, to whom the band is often compared, you won’t find any laptops on stage. While Kristian relies on looping pedals to achieve the band’s sound without additional members, Tim combines an electronic drum kit with his normal acoustic set, everything is done live and manually. Tim says that his electronic kit offers more diverse sounds than he can get from even a truckload of snare drums. El Ten Eleven combines electronic and pop influences into a tight, instrumental package.

While comparisons to the aforementioned Ratatat and other electronic acts such as MSTRKRFT, equally abundant are comparisons to post rock bands such as Explosions in the Sky (of Friday Night Lights fame). One website describes their sounds as “Justice meets Tortoise”, although when I asked Kristian if bands like Tortoise and Explosions were much of an influence, his answer was “No. Honestly, it [post-rock] bores me. Our songs aren’t like that, they’re more like pop songs”. This is especially evident if you listen to their latest album, “These Promises are Being Videotaped”. With bass-heavy techno-style tracks like “Jumping Frenchmen of Maine” and “I Like Van Halen Because My Sister Says They Are Cool”, any musical similarities to Tortoise begin to fade – in fact, the band recently toured with Justice. Although the change in style from their previous two albums may have alienated fans, Kristian says they have been generally supportive and excited about the new tunes. I myself was a little on the fence about “Promises” (being more of a Tortoise fan than a Justice one), but after a few listens it definitely began to grow on me, and seeing them – no, hearing them play the songs live was amazing. Their set consisted of songs from all three albums and a few covers, including Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, and a new cover of Joy Divisions “Disorder” in the encore, along with fan favorites like “I like Van Halen…” and “My Only Swerving”.

Although they say they are currently thinking about signing with a record label, they’ve released three albums now without the help of one – all available for download from the bands site. Taking another page out of Radiohead’s book, the downloads are priced at whatever you want to pay (CD’s are also available for about $10). While some might question the financial savvy of essentially relying on your fans’ generosity, Kristian says that “We actually started making more money when we started doing the tip jar thing”. “A lot of people still download it for free, but then they come to the show and feel kinda bad and buy a CD. I think it’s great – if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be at the show or buying a CD”. Looking at the cheering crowd packed into the Middle East upstairs, I would say it’s definitely paid off. Despite difficulties on the road, like having their van broken into, the band presses on. If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend seeing them live, but at the very least you should download their albums, whether you pay or not – you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to love about El Ten Eleven.

-This review was provided courtesy of WRBB DJ Matt Burton

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