Valley of Fire
$ 25.00 USD
Produced by Sonny DiPerri & El Ten Eleven.
Kristian Dunn: Basses
Tim Fogarty: Drums
Recorded at Sonic Ranch by Sonny DiPerri, assisted by Ram Cantu.
Mixed by Sonny DiPerri.
Mastered by Dave Cooley.
Designed by Ron Fleming, YYES.
There are some places where words can’t tread. There is no vocabulary for beauty that leaves us tongue-tied and speechless. There isn’t a word for the places that pluck the breath out of our bodies. Kristian Dunne learned the deficits of language when trying to describe his travels to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park. The only way to chronicle the journey was through music, making way for El Ten Eleven's 13th album.
In 2020, Dunn and his wife and daughter packed up a camper van and headed westward, roaming from Los Angeles to Zion National Park in Utah. As their first night of driving winded to a close, the Dunnes staked claim on what they believed was a lowly patch of desert, made a fire, and swiftly fell asleep. It wasn’t until the Dunn family awoke that they realized what grandeur they had stumbled into.
“It’s like having someone describe the Grand Canyon to you—you don’t really understand until you’re standing at the very edge,” Dunn said. “You realize in staring at this great big void how insignificant you and your problems are in the grand scheme of the world.”
Soon after this road trip, Dunn and bandmate Tim Fogarty began blending the sonic palette that would become an ode to the Valley of Fire. For El Ten Eleven, Valley of Fire is unique in inspiration and conception: This album is the first in which Dunn did not consider – or care, for that matter – about the music's live translation. That clear-eyed mindset offered the duo a renewed sense of adventure in the studio. Dunn recorded his unplugged bass with an SM57 mic, Fogarty punched out rhythms with a bowl of coins and a mallet, loops were stacked and hacked beyond recognition. Recorded at Sonic Ranch’s Neve Control Room, which houses a 48-channel board once owned by Madonna, even the room in which Valley of Fire was recorded captures the superhuman specter of its inspiration.
Valley of Fire is an accidental – but no less meaningful – spiritual sequel to the duo’s 2022 release of New Year’s Eve, a frenzied, discotheque fever dream. Compare the album covers, both designed by Ron Fleming (YYES), and the two stand as foils of one another: The watery abstraction of New Year’s Eve counterbalances the fiery distortions of Valley of Fire.
“The Valley of Fire was created by shifting dunes and erosion — we see it as a static image — a vertical moment in its history, but it is the result of constant change and the forces exerted upon the result,” Fleming said of the Valley of Fire artwork. “It's all those forces coming together to create something larger, more complex, and continually influenced by things beyond our control.”
Valley of Fire is El Ten Eleven’s most thematically committed record, merging personal anecdotes with the larger ecosystem of the Valley of Fire. While the album was inspired by organic beauty, its seven songs are still rife with El Ten Eleven's trademark technical flair. From the heavy tremolos of “Volsens” to the enduring presence of the SuperEgo pedal on “Days of Our Lives,” the duo use technology to mimic the complexity and gravity of the waking world.
“Two Views of a Secret” is the duo’s homage to bassist Jaco Pastorius and shared kinship with nature. “White Domes” directly references a hiking trail of the same name that loops through a slot canyon guarded by lofty white peaks. The album’s titular track, with its sweeping reverb personifying the echo of voice against a cliff, is an ode to the Valley of Fire itself, and a meditation on the eternal tenure of the valleys amidst the mortal coil.
While the Valley of Fire has existed for thousands of years and its brilliance has never wavered, it has been struck by waves of change – incremental alterations that come with time. El Ten Eleven has evolved with a similar cadence; the trials of age and experience have ushered in something altogether new. Both the Valley of Fire and El Ten Eleven bear the results of many forces within and beyond human control, both symbolizing grit and fortitude. And that sort of endurance holds a beauty all its own.