Chicago-based trio Zelienople’s first album in five years is an understated one. Channeling a relatively conventional set-up variously comprising vocal, piano, guitar and drums through a tunnel of progressive and post-rock abstraction and experimentation, whilst imbuing it with a constant sense of fragile introspection, results in a very personal-sounding half dozen long and moody tracks.
Heavy use of reverb and delay give tracks like “Breathe” an otherworldly feel, and there’s a little bit of a lo-fi, echo-heavy vibe on most of the instruments that give a wrapping sense of isolation that mostly comes across as very cold. Breathiness and looseness is integral to the character of the vocal, which works well in tracks such as journeying piece (and highlight) “You Have It”.
The publicity for the album refers to “driving rhythms” and “underground pop”, but the implementation of this is more low-key than you might expect. There’s certainly an edge-of-pop structure around songs like Hold You Up (albeit in eight-minute extended mix form) but generally the performance is so gentle and lackadaisical- but not in a bad way- that it doesn’t channel a pop energy. Instead it can come across like the sound of Joy Division falling asleep. Trio member Mike Weis’s studies of Korean Shaman and Buddhist music is more openly apparent.
A bit of variety comes in the fairly modestly handled use of different instrumentation, such as what seems to be bass clarinet and flute synth sounds that creep in to “Just An Unkind Time”, but this is so subtle that it’s hard to be confident as to what they even are.
Although the grunginess and washy production qualities of this aren’t always to my taste, nevertheless there’s a purity of expression and a musical richness that seeps through here and makes it a very worthwhile listen for those times of indulgent rather than enforced isolation.