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Sleeper Coach
Loose Thread

The murky, ambient dreamscapes on Zelienople's second album recall the drifting, space-rock detritus of early Labradford, underpinned by loose songs relayed through the blurry whispers and murmurs of Matt Christensen's vocals. But this Chicago quartet's music also reaches further back, to the atmospheric post-punk austerity of The Cure (circa Faith) and Joy Division. If Sleeper Coach is far less emotionally explicit than either of these forbears, there is still a discernable dynamic, a momentum typified by hollow-sounding basslines reverberating beneath the greyed-out wash of ambient sound.

Zelienople's music isn't expressed through any sense of urgency, but rather a slow, considered series of expositions that maintain a distance between what is being played and what we're hearing through a persistent semi-opaqueness of character. Depending on your viewpoint, this either lends the music a sense of mystery or obscures it with some needlessly oblique window-dressing. But providing your expectations harmonize with the band's outlook, what you get is seductive, slow-mo melancholia submerged in a dense, sensory aura.

Within its isolation-tank world the band traces sparse, pulsating rhythms, sometimes, as on "Sea Bastards," with an air of graceful detachment, elsewhere with a more focused groove — "Softkiller" and "Dr Brilliant" convey a sense of inexorability in spite of their spectral arrangements. "Underneath" reverberates more abstractly, while the instrumental "Corner Lost" beats out a distant march like a ghostly echo of Joy Division's "The Eternal."

On occasion the tendency towards abstraction dominates completely and the band dissolves into an amorphous mass of sound, but even here the music retains an organic character, with loose drone sounds and clusters of guitar notes hanging together in a kind of stasis. The sound throughout is fluid, certainly with an improvised spirit, even as the tracks come together in their individual arrangements. There are elements that seem almost familiar, even comforting, amid the blank, ambient noise, such as the folk-guitar melody running through "Don't Be Lonely" and the gentle lullaby quality of "Ship That Goes Down," helping to provide a connection between the dreamlike siren call of the band's songs and the gentle, rippling movement of abstract flurries.

by Tom Ridge

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