Five years elapsed between Hold You Up and Zelienople’s previous album, 2015’s Show Us the Fire, but that sort of gap is rather apropos for the Chicago trio. Ever since their debut album, 2002’s Pajama Avenue, Zelienople have been more than content to exist within their own shadowy sonic world.
Indeed, Hold You Up’s six songs all seem to be surrounded by a pervasive miasma, a foggy cloud that renders them indistinct and ephemeral. This could certainly be achieved by lo-fi recording and production techniques. However, there’s nothing lo-fi about the band’s music, which remains lush and detailed, from Mike Weis’ brushed, airy drumming to Matt Christensen and Brian Harding’s shimmering and coruscating guitar, from various drones (organ, guitar, clarinet) to Christensen’s hushed voice and cryptic lyrics.
Hold You Up occasionally moves into more abstract and even harrowing territory, as on “Breathe” with its backdrop of clatterings, scrapings, and stray guitar and piano notes. But even in these moments, there’s a very clear attention to detail as well as a poignancy in Christensen’s lyrics. Later, on songs like the title track and “You Have It,” the trio opens up their sound, creating widescreen music that would be a perfect accompaniment for journeys down dusty backroads and rural highways.
Indeed, my strongest memory of Zelienople’s music is from years ago, when I listened to Pajama Avenue and Sleeper Coach extensively during a weekend roadtrip to Kansas City. Just like then, Zelienople’s new album — which, on its surface, seems introverted, insular, and composed solely for darker, internal spaces (e.g., “Just an Unkind Time”) — also possesses a hypnotic and meandering aspect that’s perfectly suited for more expansive environments.
However, Hold You Up is more than just travel music, and indeed, seems to poke holes into the idea of simply taking to the open road to escape one’s problems.
The album concludes with a song titled “America,” a word that’s grown increasingly fraught in light of the last four years. In what’s arguably the album’s most direct moment, Christensen sings “And I try not to think or pray too much to America/‘Cause I don’t even know/‘Cause I don’t even know what it means” while backed by languid guitars, a loping bassline, and rolling percussion. But even after trying to escape, he still finds the same qualities (“Pointed eyes, pointed teeth, pointed guns”) everywhere he looks.
Whether you read the song’s final lines as a commentary on America’s undue negative influence around the globe or a recognition of our shared humanity replete with the same flaws and frailties — or some combination thereof — “America” ends Hold You Up on a suitably ambiguous note that’s perfectly in-line with Zelienople’s consistently captivating music.