‘Drone music’ is such a damning expression, isn’t it? Well, unfortunately Zelienople are always going to be labelled as such, even though they are anything but drones as musicians and each song on their latest album is standalone brilliant. Their music has a dreamy, sleepy feel to it, and it’s easy to lose sight of the trees for the wood, but listen carefully and you can hear there’s a lot going on. It’s rather like staring at an apparently lifeless patch of ground until you begin to discern busy worms and ants therein.
The home-tuned suspension cables generate hazily evocative string effects, and combine with ingenious use of artillery shell and the under-appreciated harmonium to lend this album a unique sound: the closest point of obvious comparison is the way strings are sometimes used in North African music to provide background and create a contemplative mood. There are beautiful moments that you’ll want to listen to repeatedly, such the spire-gazingly soulful arrival of the organ on “The Nod Squad” or the opening bars of “Boxes On Shores,” which feature some delicate pizzicato and Iberian-style castanet along with psychedelic vocals from Matt Christensen, whose voice is only sparingly used but always welcome. “Boxes” is the strongest track on the album, with inventive percussion that becomes the backbone of the song, a permanent sound rather than a beat or accompaniment. As with much of Zelienople’s work, their experimentation with the basic melody is drawn out but never tedious. It rewards both concentrated listening and more casual appraisal equally well.
That’s not to suggest that everything is sit-back-and-let-it-wash-over-you listening here though. “Seroquel,” with unsettling, screeching string-based tortuousness is an alarming, menacing sound-scape, with the kinds of sounds that are very much on the horizon elsewhere on the album coming to the fore – you’d be hard-pressed to discern anything as mainstream as a tune here. “Rehabilitation” definitely has its roots in the Indian Subcontinent, and is a minimalist masterpiece, consisting of little more than a soft drone, punctuated by tapping woodblock. By way of contrast, “Life Is Simple” is much more upbeat, as Christensen’s smoky, ethereal voice floats over the subdued guitars and the song burns itself out. “It’s Still Hard To Steal Cars” is beautifully organic, and the string ostinato intrigues the listener, despite the fact there’s very little development in the song aside from hesitant shifts in pitch.
Overall, Ink is mandatory listening if you’re even remotely interested in world or experimental music. For an album that was recorded in just two days, it shows an immense amount of sophistication in terms of texture and composition, and is ideal to zone out to – an activity that’s increasingly essential for many of us, given the current madness of world affairs.
Mali Music – Mali Music
Neil Young – Sleeps With Angels
Zoviet France – Collusion