In most cases, Spotify is the devil. But unlike the evil bastard himself, the former has its uses. For a start, Spotify’s algorithm does come in useful from time to time.
After scrolling through the similar artists category (in this case MJ Guider) Chicago trio, Zelienople, popped up and, suffice to say, I’ve been down that once evasive rabbit hole since.
Sadly, I have Spotify to thank for pushing that rock I’d seemingly been sleeping under for the past two decades.
After days of research and listening, Zelienople (Matt Christensen – guitar/vocals), Mike Weis – percussion and Brian Harding – guitar/clarinet) seem to be one of those bands that have just got on with the task at hand.
Barely a fanbase beyond early enthusiasts, obsessive record collectors and those constantly on the hunt for new music, by and large Zelienople have been rekindling the spirit of faded ’90s underground touchstones of slow-core, post-hardcore, and post-rock, since their 2002 debut, Pyjama Avenue.
They don’t sound exclusively like any of the above, but with the influences of each peering through the cracks throughout moments of their underappreciated body of work, Zelienople deliver a fragile sound that casts a woozy spell over their audience.
Their discography is filled with songs holding onto the safety blanket, but on Hold You Up, the band’s album first since 2015’s Show Us the Fire, it can be said that Christensen hasn’t sounded more accessible.
While you could say that Pyjama Avenue had an air of The ‘Mary Chain’s Jim Reid fronting Bedhead, slowly but surely Zelienople have become more confident within their own skin and on Hold You Up, Christensen’s lyrics have never been so open, like he’s spilling it all out to his therapist while we look on through the window.
“I’m safer taking care of you” he whispers during the opening Safer, a silky cut filled with syncopated rhythms that lean on Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk.
House is a fractured slow-core dirge, baring the naked emotion of Bark Psychosis and the fragility of Slint.
The linchpin to Hold You Up is the eponymous song – showered in beauty, it’s a sheer emotional call to arms. “Just to make your face smile/I could make you stay awhile” creaks Christensen, the words oozing from his lips like a weeping wound.
The bare emotional intensity of the song almost crumbles under the weight of heady drones and hypnotic percussion and if Labradford ever feminised their sound then it may have sounded just like this.
You Have is a desert-tinted slow-core lament that reaches to the vaults of early Low, while Just an Unkind Time is a minimal jazz wandering that rubs close to Yo La Tengo’s Summer Sun sessions.
America finishes the album in style and is the closest thing Zelienople will get to writing an anthem – its loose free accessibility capping off Hold You Up in modest fashion.
While they may harvest the seeds that were originally planted by ’90s underground luminaries, it’s Christensen‘s vocal delivery that make Zelienople are very relevant concern, shaking off the burden of pastiche.
Zelienople carry the torch for all the great things which came from the decade in which they followed. Personally, it may have been a crime to have their music pass by for so long, but time has been served and Hold You Up is a very timely entrance point for not only new listeners to discover Zelienople. With all the uncertainly we face today, this album is a timely welcome into this world.
Hold You Up is available now via Miasmah Recordings.