It’s not been much of a summer. The evenings have been damp, windblown and cold affairs. I’ve been practically house bound, no chance to explore the city and countryside on foot or on bicycle. It’s just not been that kind of weather. Perhaps it’s apt then Zelienople, the Chicago post-drone trio, have released a new LP which is the perfect accompaniment to these feelings of disappointment and oppression. Their music has always been an intense and smothering entity. Matt Christensen’s vocals a hushed whisper in your ear, the subtle percussion shuffling along whilst the haunting bass and occasional saxophone pierce the gloom.
The record title itself reflects the music – an unsafe and unsavoury atmosphere: The World Is A House On Fire; that safe retreat, your home, is, in fact, a blazing inferno – a place of danger and prospective loss. The opening track of ‘The Southern’ confirms this idea: “Something warm inside, something wants to die” is the haunting refrain. ‘The Real Devil’ revolves around Christensen repeating “Just a thousand faces”, an ironic chant, teasing you with the idea that the devil could be anyone, anywhere. This is accompanied by a menacing sketch of guitars that crawl under your skin, filling the gaps left by a lurching bass guitar. ‘Chemist’, perhaps, extends this lack of hope further. Are we talking about using chemicals to help augment or relieve these feelings of despair? It isn’t fully clarified, but the line “I could do so much better” might suggest the latter. There is hope in these apparently hopeless circumstances. Perhaps the album title shouldn’t be taken so literally after all. There is a paradox here between the apocalyptic interpretation of the title and Christensen’s hope for redemption. If the world really IS a house on fire, how can you escape and gain redemption? It’s this confusion and emotional wrangle at the centre of the album that heightens the intensity of the music.
Whilst this might sound a little intense and depressing, it never fully capitulates to this bleakness. Christensen’s approach is a cathartic one. His muttered delivery is a kind of penance, helping absolve him of these problems. It helps that the music that shifts around his words are a hushed shadow of a backdrop. The crying saxophone, the brushed drum strokes and the clipped guitar chords are all perfectly restrained. They temper any prospective explosion of fear or regret that could erupt. This album reflects that complexity with music that melds perfectly with the lyrics resulting in a work of such dark beauty and intense emotional involvement that it leaves the listener feeling both fragile and invigorated.