Since their formation in 2002, the Los Angeles-based post rock duo El Ten Eleven — Kristian Dunn (double-neck bass/guitar) and Tim Fogarty (drums) — have released eight full-length albums and four EPs, which have helped to establish their reputation for a steadfast DIY approach and for using a dizzying array of effect and looping pedals to create a dense, complex and incredibly cinematic sound.
As we all know, experiencing an unexpected and tragic loss often inspires a period of deep self-reflection — a time in which one may contemplate their own mortality, as well as their own place and purpose within the larger world. El Ten Eleven’s Kristian Dunn found himself in a similar situation when a beloved family member of his died. And his own reflections on his life wound up emerging in the music he had started to write at the time. The end result is the band’s epic album Tautology, a sonic meditation on the arc of human life, composed in three parts starting from the teenage years, through middle age and then death.
Sonically, the album echoes Dunn’s own personal experiences, veering from aggressive metal riffs to gorgeous and blissful ambient soundscapes. And while there are shared melodic and harmonic ideas throughout the album, each individual album has its own distinct qualities and character: Tautology I, which represents adolescence is reportedly angsty, aggressive and occasionally depressive; Tautology II, which represents middle aged reportedly features mid-tempo, head-nodding grooves; while Tautology III, which represents the golden years, is reportedly quiet and ambient. As a result, the 3LP album reportedly finds the duo pushing their sound into new territory, experimenting with a range of textures and soundscapes not heard on any previous El Ten Eleven effort.
Dunn explains in press notes that there’s no right or wrong way to listen to Tautology, suggesting that a deep dive into the full project will yield rewards. “I think someone could listen to any one of the discs by themselves and have a really great experience—even if they didn’t know about the others. But if they do want to go deeper, I think there will be a lot of interesting stuff to discover. It works symbolically and it all connects. I think this is the best record we’ve ever done.”
Tautology I’s first single “With Report” is a decidedly aggressive song — and arguably the most aggressive of their catalog to date. Centered around a subtly expansive song structure, the song features buzzing power chords, thunderous drumming, a propulsive bass line and a rousing, mosh pit friendly hook, the track evokes the energy, and the piss and vinegar of foolhardy youth, “I wanted to represent what my teenage years were like, when I was full of testosterone and depression,” Kristian Dunn explains in press notes. “When you’re a teenager everything feels so grandiose and dramatic.”