Recorded live during two days in 2005 and originally issued on Finland’s 267 Lattajjaa imprint in a limited edition of 100, Zelienople’s follow-up to Sleeper Coach is the aural equivalent of a harrowing trip to Hades and back. In its rework of “It’s Hard to Steal Cars” (included on its first album Pajama Avenue), the guitar-based (and drummer-less) quartet swathes Matt Christensen’s whispered vocal in humungous echo, thereby amplifying the song’s disturbed character. But that’s about as conventional-sounding as the album gets, with its subsequent material oozing dread from every droning pore. Though electric guitar textures add evocative atmosphere, the primary instrumental focus is on the group’s ‘invented’ instruments: percussion noises produced from springs and thick wires, and ‘string’ sounds generated using tuned suspension cable (an artillery shell is even ‘played’ on a couple of tracks). Not surprisingly, the sounds deepen Ink’s haunted ambiance, as scrapes and moans resound through the cavernous hallways of its abandoned mansion.
All of which might suggest that the album’s an unpleasant listen. Far from it: though pursued uncompromisingly, Ink’s cryptic sound is actually inviting, sometimes even seductive, and, despite the eccentric instrumentation, generally accessible. Maintaining balance helps too, with the Chicago-based band wisely juxtaposing the nightmarish “Seroquel,” for example, with the gentler vocal-based folk mantra “Life is Simple” and the rather bucolic “Boxes On Shores.” For every moment that evokes the horrible sound of an animal’s dying cry, there’s another that suggests the peaceful calm that inevitably follows a traumatizing episode of violence.