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Hello Body: An Introduction into the World of Matt Christensen

We dip into the elusive world of Matt Christensen – one the most underrated artists in music today.

When it comes to extensive output of new music, we often think about Robert Pollard. Or in more recent times Richard Dawson and his lockdown project, Bulbils. Locally, the venerable Claire Welles, too, of course.

Like his band, Zelienople, Matt Christensen operates on the fringes of almost everything. The Chicago artist dances quietly in the shadows, having spent years consistently churning out new sounds.

To engage with Christensen’s creations is something akin to locating the most valuable treasure. Particularly in 2021, where Christensen has entered a purple patch, indeed.

Not that the Zelienople singer deals in filler. Unlike the aforementioned Guided By Voices singer, Christensen unearths gem after gem.

From a personal point of view, Zelienople came into my life at a pretty low point. Oddly enough, Christensen’s latest solo offerings have arrived at a similar time, where it’s beginning to develop as some strange nexus of meeting in moments of need.

That’s what both Christensen and Zelienople’s music does to you. Despite its spacious warmth and earthy melancholic qualities, it’s music that slowly evaporates loneliness and embraces hope.

Rather than try to dissect Christensen‘s 150 releases (and counting) – all of which are readily available on his Bandcamp page, here is more of a segue into this great adventure via the latest releases from one of the world’s most underrated voices in music.

Zelienople interview: “our biggest enemy is cynicism”

Lost Men

Having released two instrumental albums, Returns and Marquette, beforehand, let’s being this journey by highlighting the beautifully elusively Lost Men.

Out of all of Christensen‘s releases so far this year, Lost Men is the slow burner of the bunch, with a noticeable drop in the gears, sonically aligning with the slowcore slumber Zelienople have spent decades perfecting.

If The Salty Sea doesn’t bring a tear to the eye then it’s likely you’re dead inside. Its gloomy atmospherics runs through the remainder of Lost Men, with notable highlights including the lonely swoon of Train Drone, late night lament, Undone, and the campfire crackle of Take Me Out of the Fold – a song many aspiring songwriters could only dream of creating.

While there was a case of backtracking to Lost Men, there’s no question that new listeners should start here. Skeletal in sound, the spacious atmosphere of Lost Men reveals itself more with each listen.

Blue Smoking Room

Zelienople have always cherry-picked the best parts from forward-thinking music of the ’90s and Christensen trims the fat even more on Blue Smoking Room.

Here, we see Christensen operating at his most ‘conventional’. The guitars are spiky yet spacious, possessing an ominous growl that could be described as a modest Neil Young collaborating with Low.

Front-to-back, Blue Smoking Room is a winner.

From the down-and-out waltz of Dirtboy, to the slowcore splendour of I Look My Age and The Wrong Way to Predict the Future – the latter one of the finest things Christensen has written – Blue Smoking Room is not only Christensen’s finest record in 2021 so far, it’s also up there with the best music anyone’s released, too.

The Besnard Lakes interview: “there is always a bit of serendipity when we make our albums”

The Skies Push Back

Following Blue Smoking Room, The Skies Push Back lends itself more to an acoustic ambience (see Files). It’s essentially music for quiet, dimly lit rooms.

The lonesome traipse of Coral starts things off. A succulent slowcore jam that drifts into an atmospheric haze.

Rough People and Catch & Release are the kind of street-level cuts that would bring an an open mic night crowd to tears, while the lament that is It’s Drowning, Too reaches for the electronic elements of Zelienople‘s finest work.

Whilst the shift in tempo is evident, it’s what makes The Skies Push Back all the more beautiful and a lovely follow-up to Blue Smoking Room. The two dovetail perfectly.

Hello Body

On Hello Body, Christensen shifts from the country-tinged acoustic leanings to a framework of abstract minimalism.

The opening title track is a hymnal slice of sonic gold dust. It’s arguably the finest moment on the album, while Heaven Knows, But I Know, The Tide Drops and closer, Camera, dip into the world of spacious composition, with Christensen‘s wispy fog-like vocals pulling these songs into bright new terrains.

All told, Hello Body encapsulates Christensen‘s persona. A shadowy, aloof figure and these songs stretch the creative boundaries even more.

Hello Body is a release for those lonely nights and a welcome addition to Christensen‘s broody and, quite frankly, stunning body of work so far in 2021.

We can’t wait to hear what follows in the coming months.

Subscribe to Matt Christensen’s full discography and all future releases for as little as $12 USD per year.

For full details visit Christensen’s Bandcamp page.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

2 replies on “Hello Body: An Introduction into the World of Matt Christensen”

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