Opollo – Rover Tracks

Self-released (bandcamp), 2012

While most of the music I listen to is purely electronic, my favorite band is the Cocteau Twins. Something about the combination of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice and Robin Guthrie’s guitar creates an experience for me like nothing else I’ve heard. While the Twins have been defunct for years, Guthrie is still releasing instrumental guitar-pop that retain the roots of the sound he helped pioneer.

I bring this up because I always wondered what Guthrie could do if he applied his signature sound to a more experimental template. He’s hinted at it, particularly in his collaborations with keyboard minimalist Harold Budd, but he’s always seemed hesitant to fully abandon the rock-based structure where he made his name.

Fortunately, others have taken his cue. Jarek Leskiewicz, who has made postmodern guitar-based music across a number of releases with numerous collaborators – most notably Dean Garcia of the celebrated shoegazer act Curve – has released Rover Tracks, a collection of guitar-drone space-ambient music under the name Opollo. Rover Tracks (double meaning duly noted) isn’t going to redefine these well-trodden genres, but Leskiewicz handles it with pace and style, creating a captivating listen that hints at greatness.

There’s a strong soundtrack quality to the album. Opener “kepler-22b” would have fit perfectly into Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine, with its looped guitar chords and distant washes, and the developing crescendo and looped bass chords of “its final resting place” would be ideal for a closing credit sequence. Leskiewicz varies his approach, sometimes using his processed guitars to create a wall of feedback among his keyboard tones (the grandiose “above the rover”), other times resorting to elongated single chords that have been sampled and filtered (the contemplative “subsatellite”). Rover Tracks can fall into periods of harshness, and it’s here where I feel the structure becomes a bit too artificial and strays too far from the peaceful drama defining most of the album, but this rarely happens.

Where Leskiewicz really shines is when he allows his electronics to become the focal point. The glorious twelve-and-a-half-minute “pur-lazarus” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of space ambient music, gliding slowly through the cosmos on the back of a series of gradual pads and keys that conjure a wondrous sense of interstellar awe. The track shifts about halfway through, morphing smoothly into a series of lightly distorted passes and distant guitar buoyed by an endless synth drone. It’s an incredibly elemental track, and I can’t help but be drawn into the embrace of distant stars and nebulae, while moons and comets drift past in the vacuum. The track “tiran reef” is quieter, but no less majestic, thanks to a distant bass pulse and floating bits of guitar and drone. There’s just enough drama to keep things from getting too airy, but neither does Rover Tracks fall into the lightless abyss of its darker cousins.

Rover Tracks is a well-crafted album from an artist who grasps the power of drone and understands how to fuse it with elements experimental guitar. Leskiewicz’ debut as Opollo is a tad rough about the edges, and isn’t always consistent, but it’s full of lengthy passages that showcase ambient skill and adherence to concept. If only Robin Guthrie could escape Earth’s orbit in such an assured manner.

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