Zelienople - Stone Academy (Root Strata LP) / Bonus - On Earth (Root Strata CD)
Root Strata is a rather new label run by Jefre Cantu- Ledesma, who plays in Tarentel and also puts out solo releases on the side (as any reader of this blog should be aware of). Busy dude, this Jefre. He also seems to put a ton of care into the aesthetics of each Root Strata release if these - and the images on their website - are of any indication. The Zelienople LP comes in a cardboard sleeve with a massive (real!) photo pasted atop while the Bonus CD is housed in a pretty intricate, also-cardboard sleeve. I recommend browsing their website and scoping out the others, although they're mostly sold out. But what else would you expect when you're dealing with highly-touted underground heavyweights like My Cat is an Alien, Starving Weirdos, the Alps, D. Yellow Swans and of course Tarentel? These two are the newest Root Stratas (Stratum?) and they're limited to 300 and 500 respectively so get on your horse.
Zelienople's apparently a semi-(in?)famous band with releases on 267 Lattajjaa and PseudoArcana. Huh...for some reason I had this pegged as being the debut release from one guy. Not sure why. Probably due to the loner spirit that emanates from every nook and cranny of either side. I mean this really could be one guy, just doing a whole lot of overdubbing. It's pretty well rooted in dark/sparse folk music, with loads of acoustic noodling, some piano, a smattering of delicate percussion, keyboards, and the odd trumpet and flute here or there. Basically everything is thrown into the mix here in the hopes that something's gonna stick. I found it all very nice, but very inoffensive. It was just...nice. That's all. One touch I did like was how each song slowly spiralled off onto a more experimental tangent after initially starting as a dusty outsider folk excursion, often incorporating oddball instrumentation and tumbling into hippie jamming or throbbing globs of congealed soupy reverb mass. The RS website compares these guys to early Talk Talk and Thuja which I can kinda see but maybe more obvious reference points would be a band of like-minded Jandeks, or recent Six Organs of Admittance, or a more experimental/less happy Devendra Banhart. There's nine tracks on the album, featuring some decidedly non-folky titles like "Fuck Everything" and "Pissing". So maybe in that respect it's more Wrest/Leviathan than Devendra but then at least Wrest doesn't touch little boys.
Bonus is another group I don't know nothing about, except that they're a trio from Seattle and Portland. They too have been pretty big on the CD-R circuit garnering quite a fanbase with their brand of woozy, dizzying, Aquarius Records-ready drones. What we have here are three untitled pieces played out over the course of 40 minutes featuring glacially-slow, shifting, microtonal drones and soundscapes. The first track is a 12-minute piece probably scored for synthesizers and other electronic gizmos (well they all are, I would think) and it puts forth quite a remarkable wall of cottony tone fuzz...like sticking your head inside an amplifier that Mogwai or Earth just spent two hours brutalizing. The second one is a much less dense, spacey/floaty/lasery drone beamed in from some other satellite awayyyz up...meanwhile the last and longest one is like a combination of the two, ever so slightly frayed at the edges but not nearly harsh enough to perturb. More like a slow rupture. If you're big on tuning in, turning on, and dropping off, they don't come much better than "On Earth"...esp. if you're already a big fan of My Cat is an Alien, Hermann Nitsch, Rafael Toral, Eliane Radigue, Growing, Terry Riley, etc...Bonus certainly haven't reinvented the drone but they've made a good enough use of it to warrant your time and/or money.
So, I feel bad because I can't really come up with many sharp metaphors and descriptions for Jefre's Root Strata CDs but they are what they are and that's certainly not a bad thing. I'd say if either of these even remotely piqued your interest to give them at least a second glance because they both look and sound nice and, if nothing else, will sure look pretty on your shelf when your parents stop by. And before you know it you and yer old man are both sitting on the couch with your heads tilted back, staring at the ceiling and talking about just intonation. Tell ma to put the roast beef back in the oven - it's gonna be a while.