Review: El Ten Eleven – “New Year’s Eve”

There’s a surprising buoyancy to the new El Ten Eleven LP. While the post-rock band’s previous efforts, especially 2020’s Tautology trilogy, have dwelled in the chambers of obtuse time signatures and excessive texture, New Year’s Eve positively floats above it all, with the duo fleshing out the dynamic spaces between percussion and bass showmanship. The end result is six songs that aren’t only good for the head, but for the hips, too. Not since Dave Grohl birthed The Dee Gees have we heard a band walk this hard of an angular strut with rubbery funk-style bass and driving drums. Mark your calendar, kiddies: El Ten Eleven is arena-ready.

This all, of course, makes sense – the band is offering its own special kind of commentary on the births of new years and all the loaded context that comes rolling along with that. “Few days hold as much promise – and subsequent disappointment – as New Year’s Eve,” the band says in advance press materials for the Joyful Noise LP. “The spiritual hangover that lingers every Jan. 1 inspired the new works from El Ten Eleven. After a year that changed nearly-everything most-likely-forever, the instrumental duo felt compelled to soundtrack the emotional heave-ho of New Year’s Eve with an album of the same name.” The question that remains, though, is if these two guys can manage to balance the Dec. 31 optimism with the mid-January resolution crash. The verdict? Oh boy-o, yes.

The record starts with the title track, which, after some post-rock feel-me-ups, gets to the business at hand: disco-era bass storytelling atop a crisply recorded percussive shuffle. In the background, the bass loops a more remorseful coda – nice touch – as the bass funks funks funks away, all the while with the most perky, open-hi-hatted beat you could imagine. It grows from there, with different segments giving further volume to the remorseful or sometimes, gleefully, handing it back over to the disco bass. El Ten Eleven always has trafficked in concepts; this one, in particular, feels resolutely formed.

New Year’s Eve is mostly a valley of ups after that. “The Time Knife,” with its rubbery bass intro, sounds like Pell Mell by way of Kraftwerk – perfect music to have playing on your car stereo while cruising down some titular avenue. In case you were worried these guys weren’t dressed up for the affair, they throw in some fluorescent synth washes for good measure – a brave but welcomed move. “A Reflection of a Reflection,” a reference perhaps to the band’s writing style or the album’s cover, has a Tim Fogarty trademark drum beat that’s as addictive as meth and twice as tasty, with a couple extra kicks on every other kickdrum beat punctuating the landscape. Kristian Dunn tosses in some glass-laden repertoire on the four-song for good measure.

“Sixteen Candles,” the record’s fifth song, offers some familiar turf for El Ten Eleven. Dunn’s twinkling guitar notes hang in the air, suspended frozen, as the duo starts fleshing out another post-rock banger. This starts turning into, though, anything but what’s expected, as the track goes on to some electric details – I don’t know what pedal creates that strobe-bass effect, but I want it – before a mean driving-forward section where they assign everything to abandon and just positively slam away – breathtaking stuff.

The record doesn’t let up, that much is for sure. While El Ten Eleven lingered amongst its grief on the sometimes-incredible, sometimes-uneven Tautology series, here they find their wings with oddly complementary – but starkly different – sounds. Dunn’s bass is a thing of both force and beauty on New Year’s Eve and combined with Fogarty’s lighter touches, these guys could eke out a whole other record that sounded like this and few would complain. El Ten Eleven’s New Year’s Eve is a bright-eyed take on rhythms and resolutions, with the past, present and future all folded into bravura narratives. New Year’s might only come around once a year but we’re lucky we can give this a spin all 365. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, March 10, 2022


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.