El Ten Eleven- Valley of Fire

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Reviews

El Ten Eleven The Valley of Fire


El Ten Eleven, the long running instrumental post rock duo, are true masters of their craft, having consistently released strong and musically rich albums for going on twenty years now. And they only seem to get more prolific with time—in the last three years alone they have released a triple album,Tautology (2020) and its follow up, New Year’s Eve, which came out last year. Now they have started off 2023 with the release another album, Valley of Fire, an album that has very distinct themes tying it together, which their label, Joyful Noise, describes as “merging personal anedcotes with the larger ecosystem of the sound.” Bassist/composer Kristian Dunn further explains that the album was inspired by “visiting Valley Of Fire State Park in Nevada,” “Overwhelmed by the beauty and surreal nature of the place, I found myself in the rare state of actually living in the moment and feeling awash in true tranquility. There was a sense of not getting close to something transcendent but actually experiencing it, thus the title. It wasn’t almost transcendent, it WAS.”


The thing I have always loved about instrumental music is that, in the hands of the right artist, it can say so much without ever uttering a word. Vast feelings and emotions, thoughts and ideas, incredible highs and dark lows can wash over you with a power that even the best lyricists can’t seem to match and say things that words can be hard pressed to convey—this is something El Ten Eleven has always excelled at. The band echoed this sentiment, sharing on Instagram about the album: “It hopefully says everything I can’t quite articulate about the feeling of experiencing something bigger than yourself. It’s like having someone describe the Grand Canyon to you—you don’t really understand until you’re standing at the very edge. We hope you listen and love it.”


Regardless of the creators intention, the other gift of instrumental music is that you get to decide and apply it to your own experiences in a way that is much less restrictive than if there are the stricter boundaries of lyrics. I have been a fan of El Ten Eleven for a very long time now, what I have always found and loved in their music is the undercurrent of hope and a sense of calm that always seems to find me in the moments I need it most. Through thick and thin, through terrible loss and incredible triumph, I’ve always found comfort in putting on one of their albums to feel grounded.


El Ten Eleven performing

El Ten Eleven performing

El Ten Eleven in 2022 (photos by Kate Hoos)


And so Valley of Fire finds me and offers me a feeling of being grounded yet again, at the start of a new year and a new phase of myself. Now no longer the quirky twenty something that first discovered this band and fell in love with some of their bouncier older tracks like “Hot Cakes” or “Jumping Frenchmen of Maine,” the firmly middle aged me is here at the dawn of a new era of my life, exploring what that means, and the more somber and contemplative offerings on this latest record hit me in a much needed place.


Opening with the subdued and hopeful, “New Year’s Day,” we enter into the world of the Valley of Fire, full of introspection and reflection, a place to quietly contemplate and explore the meaning of things bigger than ourselves. This song is followed by the album’s lead single “Not Even Almost,” continuing in the vein of hope and hitting many of the sweeping signature aspects of Kristian Dunn’s impressive pedalboard wizardry. About the song he shares “If you listen closely, you’ll notice the melody repeating but the bass parts changing underneath. It’s a very Bach-inspired idea, but fits the metaphor perfectly (the anchor of your identity shifting under a truly moving circumstance).”



Other highlights for me are the short hit of “Volsens,” the darkly funky third track and the quietly majestic “Days of Our Lives” with laid back percussion from Dunn’s stalwart longtime musical companion, drummer Tim Fogarty, who plays perfectly subdued beats alongside the low-key guitar and bass loops. The title track closes the album, with a slow and cinematic build towards a triumphant conclusion, relying again on sparse percussion alongside gentler, circumspect loops to tell its tale.


El Ten Eleven performing

El Ten Eleven in 2022 (photo by Kate Hoos)


Valley of Fire is a stirring addition to this duo’s already impressive body of work. It showcases everything that makes them such unique songwriters, and enforces why they are so beloved by the devoted fans who have followed their career for many years. They hit NYC twice in 2022, once for their own headline show and again opening for Peter Hook and the Light (both phenomenal shows for the record), so here’s hoping 2023 sees them grace the Big Apple once more.


Valley of Fire is out now via Joyful Noise.




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