When you think of Fast Forward, the title of revered San Diego instrumental post-rock duo El Ten Eleven's latest album, you might think it refers to that impulse to skip ahead. We're all so inclined to expect that what lies in the future must be worth the inherent magnetism of life's rigid momentum. Instead, it's less metaphorical than all that. "Fast Forward" was actually a band name that songwriter-bassist Kristian Dunn's father used to always suggest when Dunn was young and starting out as a musician. He hated it and never used it, but now he sees that was just obstinacy and after all these years, finally gave in and applied it to his music. It's a personal reference the listener can't possibly know without seeking the information, but among the dance-driven hooks on standout tracks like "Battle Aves," the record finds both Dunn and beat mastermind Tim Fogarty exploring their youths and relationships with their fathers through a record that is mature, mood-rich and resonant on multiple levels. Fans will note immediately that the album also shifts the band's sound, inspired by a third father-son influence.
"We've played a bunch of shows with Peter Hook (of New Order and Joy Division) and his son Jack," Dunn says in an email interview. "They convinced me to play a bass six like they do. A bass six is a little different from a standard six-string bass in that the top four strings are the same as a regular bass, but there are two higher strings added on top. In other words, it's the same tuning as a guitar but an octave lower. Anyway, that instrument changed the sound of the band, so I dedicated a song to them: 'Peter and Jack.' There is no double neck on this record."
That track is distinct in subject matter from much of the rest, which tours the listener through some of Fogarty's family history points of interest, with Dunn helping to evoke the tug we all feel about certain places through songs that yank the listener around. The album kicks off with "Point Breeze," a meaningful spot as a kid growing up for Fogarty's father, who died just before the recording process started. Next is "Scott Township," punctuated by feedback and finding us in Fogarty's childhood stomping grounds. Further dedications to Fogarty's father can be found on "We Lost a Giant" and "JD."
While the record is weighted by reconciling difficult, powerful feelings, the music itself has a light touch, compelling pensiveness but not breakdown. When performing, the duo – known for snubbing laptops to create a frenzied live show where they finesse these songs right in front of marveling audiences – necessarily ices out this intimacy (which is so integral to the songwriting process) and brings, for Dunn, a rare emotional peak through performance.
"Honestly, when we put a set together, we are focused so much on the technical side of things that emotion is a very distant concern," Dunn says. "Once we get in front of people, that changes. We've played 'My Only Swerving' so many times, it's hard to get moved by it while in the practice room. But when 700 people go nuts when we play it live, there is a unique emotional component that is otherwise not achievable."