Red Level Eleven – Fort Seduction

Red Level Eleven
Fort Seduction

Because Red Level Eleven does not hesitate to reference their influences by adding a sticker to their jewel case, neither will I hesitate to make such comparisons. Red Level Eleven combines the guitar feedback of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation with guitar playing reminiscent of Helium’s The Dirt of Luck. But guitarist Michelle Williams sings in a less rough voice than that of Kim Gordon, and maybe even more so than that of Mary Timony. (The Pixies comparison that the sticker makes is not as obvious as are the other two.) Second guitarist Patrick Hill lends sparse, “ugly vocals,” to the final two tracks. But the use of vocals comes second to the melodic guitar playing plus guitar noise, which makes up the core of Fort Seduction. And what the listener gets is a 30-minute album with a very familiar, enjoyable feel.
The beginning of “Freshman Year” will make you second-guess whether or not this is Fort Seduction or Daydream Nation. A wall of guitar noise persists throughout, with a catchier guitar in the forefront. Williams’ vocals are almost too sweet for the unbelievably feedback drenched mix as she sings pieces of thoughts, “Eyes black like water / with the waves spilling over / down her face with a blink / drip on her cheek to the floor.” “Bent Steel” crashes in at you. This instrumental, though amply loud, is melodic enough to stay interesting. Drummer Greg Stevens’ talent also becomes obvious on this number.
“Brunswick Bridge” is fairly straightforward. The first half involves vocals over quieter guitar (of course still electric, though) while the second half is pure guitar crunch grunge. The Helium influence becomes very apparent on “The End is Wild.” Williams harmonizes with bassist Leigh Sabo on a song that is the most typically structured of Fort Seduction. Vocals actually persist throughout the majority of the song, creating a particular eerie-ness, “Swallowing the bullets / pants on fire / eyes full of bullets / lash barbed wire.”
“Hoyt Pollard” endures for almost four minutes as an instrumental, with distorted J. Mascis-style guitar playing revealing itself halfway, despite the fact that lyrics for the song are found in the liner notes. Am I missing something? Well, the messy guitar playing makes perfect sense considering Red Level Eleven opened for J. Mascis and the Fog on their tour. The drum-heavy “Utah,” the only song written by Leigh, is the obvious single, containing more vocal harmonization. The standout bass playing here is of particular interest, giving it a Sebadoh feel.
The final two songs, “Is Pat Grogan Dead” and “Calling Orson,” are written and sung by Patrick Hill. The former is energetic and straight rock. Guitars screech as Hill yells nothing more than the title of the song. The latter is similarly effective. Guitars wail this time, and the male half of the band harmonizes. These two Hill songs provide a welcome contrast to Williams’ five songs.
Co-workers Williams and Hill formed Red Level Eleven after they discovered they had similar musical tastes. They got together and made music, later forming the rest of the band. The result was Fort Seduction, which admittedly does sound like a debut album. Williams’ five songs are first, followed by Leigh’s song, followed by Hill’s final two. This makes for an album that is not exceptionally coherent, but one that is enjoyable nonetheless. Because Fort Seduction has such a familiar sound, it is easy to like at first listen. And it is just as easy to like 10 listens later.