Struggles are sloshed away by tidal waves of champagne. Resolutions are boldly proclaimed or whispered in one’s own heart. A ball drops, and we expect a whole new life to spring out. But nothing is transformed or transposed, because miracles don’t happen during the hung time between last year and this one. It’s just another New Year’s Eve.
Few days hold as much promise—and subsequent disappointment—as New Year’s Eve. The spiritual hangover that lingers every January 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.
Resolution 1: Radiate positivity.
“New Year’s Eve is a reference to guarded optimism about what will be happening next year. At the time, it seemed like our national divisiveness was gone and the end of the pandemic was near, but that’s not how it turned out,” bassist Kristian Dunn said of the album’s inspiration. “That’s what New Year’s Eves are. You think it’s gonna be a fun night, but usually it’s disappointing at the end.”
Over the course of 20 years and 11 albums, El Ten Eleven has continued to redefine the potential of bass guitar and drums. With an arsenal of pedals, labyrinthine arrangements, and a deft use of looping, Kristian Dunn (bass) and Tim Fogarty (drums) create two-man symphonies. With New Year’s Eve, the duo melds electrifying disco grooves with their tried-and-true post-rock atmospherics.
The album’s eponymous opening track plots the emotional topography of high hopes and sinking disappointment. Beginning with woozy bass drones powered by an Electro-Harmonix Superego Synth Engine (Dunn’s new “secret weapon”), the track eventually swells with Fogarty’s shape-shifting rhythms and lush textures. Followed by the scruffy groove of “Meta Metta” and triumphant crescendo of “Isn’t Everything Enough,” it’s impossible not to feel hope, or something like it.
Resolution 2: Embrace authenticity.
Throughout its six tracks, New Year’s Eve romps through infectious grooves, Rototom blasts, electrifying breakdowns, and meditative reprieves. Along with the pedal-fueled trickery and musical prowess fans have come to expect from El Ten Eleven, New Year’s Eve channels Dunn’s lifelong love of disco. Channeling memories of a childhood spent spinning Niles Rogers and Chic while his peers blared heavy metal, Dunn imbued his own emotions onto the delightful excess of disco.
“I’m a huge fan of disco music, and I mean that completely sincerely,” Dunn says. “I’m a bass player, so the bass is often the driving lead instrument of disco music, so that appealed to me--that’s just in my blood. This love was always in me, and it was time for it to come out. The album is kinda funky and kinda dancey, but with my sad boy Kristian Dunn crap on top.”
As much as the two-year recording process of New Year’s Eve demanded experimentation, it also required the band to go back to basics. Reuniting with their longtime producer Sonny DiPerri (DIIV, Portugal. The Man), Dunn and Fogarty were encouraged to simplify their approach to composition and embrace their musical instincts.
Resolution 3: Stop overthinking.
The album’s cover, a digitally manipulated photo of the duo’s reflection glimmering in fresh rainfall (i.e. a reflection of a reflection), serves as a metaphor for the band’s creative process, a lengthy process of rehearsal, reflection, and revision. Along with nodding to the reflection inherent on New Year’s Eve, the photograph also pays homage to Dunn’s newfound meditation practice, which has allowed him to break free from overanalyzing his life and work.
“It’s so hard in life to be in the moment and not go crazy about thinking about the past,” Dunn says. “A reflection of a reflection is so typical of me reflecting on my own reflections. That photo is a representation of that. Metaphorically, I think I’m cool, but then I’m thinking about the fact that I’m thinking about that. It never ends.”
The album’s closing track, “A Reflection Of A Reflection,” serves as a musical counterpart to this rumination. Repetitious to the point of hypnotic, the song’s groove mirrors the enthralling nature of contemplation. Shuffling percussion punctuates a revving bass line, never yielding to the thicket of harmonics and distortion, ultimately leaving the listener with cymbal pops and unquiet minds.
Resolution 4: Move on. Let go. Et cetera.
A followup to 2020’s grief-stricken Tautology trilogy, New Year’s Eve marks a joyous new chapter for El Ten Eleven. Instead of trying to double-down on the concept album blueprint, Dunn made a concerted decision to move out of his head and into a more intuitive world.
“With Tautology I had all of these ideas that just kept coming, and I had to figure out how to make them all fit together across three records,” Dunn says of the triple-album’s process. “With New Year’s Eve, I felt more free. I didn’t have to force anything to fit together—it just fell into place.”
Emotional resonance has always trumped musical intrigue for El Ten Eleven. With New Year’s Eve, they’ve created a record that reminds listeners that hope isn’t reserved for just one holiday. Hope is what fuels 20 years and 10 records. Hope is what carries a drum-and-bass duo across stages all over the world. Hope is a brazen belief in change, and that lives in every day and everyone.
-Shannon Nico Shreibak
writer / critic