Photo: Fonald Photography
Too often, instrumental music gets wrapped up in technical gymnastics, a jumble of exhaustive and endlessly intricate guitar riffs and complex percussion patterns that stack up like a failed game of Tetris.
For every Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, there are a dozen acts more suited for musical mathematics than songwriting. That might be the reason El Ten Eleven is quick to swat down any labeling as math- or post-rock; it favors pure, sweet and simple pop music over cold arrangements or robotic precision.
“We don’t really think we sound like a typical post-rock band. In fact, we don’t listen to that music at all,” Kristian Dunn said. “Post-rock shows, in our experience, are really boring. Our shows are usually head-bouncing, emotional danceathons.”
Playing Sunday at The Conservatory, El Ten Eleven has never had a problem leading with its heart instead of its head. The live show is labyrinthine in procedure only — the methodical looping, signature double neck guitar/bass and the pipeline of effects pedals boil down to the most effective means of recreating organic electronic sounds. It’s all warm and inviting at its core.
That has been apparent since its leadoff single, “My Only Swerving,” from the duo’s 2005 self-titled debut. But the heartfelt sentiments behind the songs’ titles have steadily grown, going from “I Like Van Halen Because My Sister Says They Are Cool” and “Music for Staring at Ceilings” to “Birth” and “Lullaby.”
Transitions, the duo’s latest full-length, surrendered fully to matters of the soul, its mood and direction shaped by personal strife and success, including a pair of divorces, a remarriage and the birth of a child.
“It’s always seemed to be the right thing to do for us. Every record we’ve made has this sort of thing going on to a certain degree,” Dunn said. “The style of our music seems to suit the subject matter.”
For Emily, the act’s new EP released this February, acts as a tribute to a fallen friend and the individuals that helped the band get where it is today. Though the songs were written “with no agenda,” the emotional place they grew from had them feeling like a thank-you card to the people held closest in the pair’s lives.
And it’s only getting more intimate from here, with the entirety of El Ten Eleven’s upcoming, yet-to-be-titled album pegged to be dedicated to Dunn’s first child.
“The theme — my daughter — came first, and the songs are being written about that as we speak,” Dunn said.
“This next record will have no double neck, either. Stay tuned.”
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