Affectless ad hoc post-rock
El Ten Eleven got their name from an airliner called the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. Etymological mystery solved. Anyways, the LA-based duo has come to be known as a forefront post-rock band. What does that mean? Well, imagine rock music as one knows it, pour acetone over its visage and then replace its atomic structure with a Play-Doh model of it. It’s something, it’s just a little depressing that it is the progeny of rock.
However few the emissaries of this newly-pressed genre may swim in the mainstream, El Ten Eleven offer the paragon to neophytes of the brand; and by the prolificacy of this project, they present an entire textbook of an abounding amount (nearly two hours) of subject matter to study in their latest triple full-length LP collection Tautology I, II & III.
It opens rather inversely with a ten-minute opener, “Entropy,” which is an apt self-description. Nothing forms but inchoately floats around in embryonic fluid with a certain listlessness. There’s a teasing guitar riff that then is met with a replication of the same riff but in a higher octave as they vie with each other against dooming bass plucks and wallops. The stretched-out dial-tone noise that frames the rest of the album first appears here and nearly every single track thereafter. Vapid and verbose, it goes on escalating and escalating without a horizonal sight of resolve. Then comes a transition from the prolixity of sound, “With Report,” in which this entrancing, looping riff issues among feedback and harmonizing octaval guitars. “Moral Dynamite” has a strange warbling fax-machine-like monotone that’s also conceivable as a glitched ice-cream truck soundtrack against ambient splashes and bass blasts.
Tautology II has a comparatively more impromptu feel to it than the others. “Nocturne” could be what a couple musicians produce while sequestered indoors on a rainy day, indolent on the rain patter. It navigates without destination or purpose, instilling either a lost or wandering sensation that then finds itself in the structure of the next song, “The Silent Bell That Rings.” Shy, miniscule strumming sidles in and is greeted by low bass notes resonating through the apertures while all effects are temporarily disabled, giving it a stripped-down feeling devoid of any decor. “Shimmer” bolsters with an accomplished kind of contentment, exemplifying the upbeat and cheery facet of the band’s musical ordnance as the stripped-down melody correlatively interplays with feedback permutations. “Besotted” is more electronically-intensive, a tinny aluminum object seems to be stretched and transfigured in upward and downward motions, all possible behind the vast and obscure panel of effects.
The final stanza of the three-piece is significantly more toned-down and minimal, so much so that each track is comparable to a protracted sigh save an occasional ambient flourish or two to disrupt the monotony. It attenuates ever lower. Down to a level below wakefulness, drifting in and out of the hypnagogic state, it effects a sort of pseudo-senility like two of the song titles suggest–“Caducity” and “Senescent.” It’s incredible how accurately they molded the sound to fit the title in “Caducity,” it’s extremely sad and has the ability to touch people even through its rudimentary production. Yet as Tautology III progresses, the ambivalence it evokes ossifies. There’re no discrete emotional responses allowed; one’s psyche goes frenetic in trying to tether onto just some kind of emotion. It’s like there’s no certainty as to what affect is being manufactured.
Although the instrumentation is succinct and properly-executed, it doesn’t sound man-made. It’s actually algorithmic more than anything. It arduously gropes for humanity but gets lost in its own maelstrom of effects pedals, feedback and deprivation of voice, surrendering itself to more use of its familiar anemic composition.
Like a tautology, Tautology I, II & III contains truth, but no one to proclaim it, and it telegraphs its singular truth over and over hoping its automatic logic might reach an organic ear through hopeless repetition. Past whatever reason the duo deliberately dared such a torpid album, they’ve eminently achieved it.