Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
“We live on an island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise because we love each other” are the first sounds off of this Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s latest album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything. The prologue comes from Ezra Steamtrain Moss Menuck, child of guitarist Efrim Menuck and violinist Jessica Moss. This prologue assumes the role of philosophical mantra, spoken from the mouth of a child sets a contrasting tone of the music to come.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Unlike this mostly instrumental ensemble from which this band spun off from, emotive content comes from angry words about unfair superstructures. Numerous vocal chants pit their voices as the only voices standing up to the superstructures; however, in being the only voices, they are all in it together whether yelling from entitled muck, or calling out a faceless “they” – politicians, hangmen, policemen – as fat consumers and corruptors of a desolate community. These are all familiar themes in Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s music, but this is the first time that there’s a consciousness about the world that their children are being born into, and with that, the music parallels anger for a disappointing society with the hope for love going forward.
However, reducing this album to political pontification would be a mistake. This is music that combines traditional blues and folk traditions, instrumentation that resembles a chamber orchestra, and songs that are often times drawn on expansive palettes. In some ways it follows traditions of the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor and other likeminded Post-Rock groups though, more often than not, they subvert those expectations in interesting ways. As with their last release, Kollaps Tradixionales (2010), the band is a quintet, with 2 violins, 1 guitar, 1 bass, and 1 drum. There are 6 tracks with 3 of the tracks being longer compositions spanning over 10 minutes.
The first track “Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal) is an incredible opening to the record. Punk rock drums, repetitious winding violins, and Menuck’s broken bird song singing “Stifled and entitled while they play at boring games” before distorted guitars crash around the 6 minute mark and the song slows down in a groovy crawling doom riff. The genre skipping is impressively daring as it is seamless. The second track is the 14 minute long “Austerity Blues” and it has everything from folksy acoustic guitar to wall of sound violins, to punky post-rock build ups, to slow ambient cool down. It’s the most sprawling track, but it maintains focus with the words “Lord let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down” chanted above it keeping it all together. It’s personal and universal, taking a general plea for revolution and making it about the future generations.
Following this, the band goes into “Take Away These Early Grave Blues” which explores a punk styling of “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” from Kollaps Tradixionales. The guitar and vocals trade rock and metal motifs with Celtic sounding violin riffs. At almost 7 minutes, it’s the first song on the album that feels like a song and less like an “epic,” and it almost sounds scant by comparison to the first two tracks. “Little Ones Run” changes the tone in a sentimental piano driven song sung by the Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeau, and it gives the album a break in intensity before the album’s centerpiece and highlight “What We Loved Was Not Enough.”
Thee Silver Mt. Zion have always shown the ability to slow things down and let a simple idea unfold over the course of ten or so minutes. Two previous examples are “There is a Light” from Kollaps and “Blind Blind Blind” from 2008’s 13 Blues for 13 Moons. Here, Menuck expounds all encompassing post-apocalyptic imagery over a slow waltz: “All our cities gonna burn / all our bridges gonna snap / all our pennies gonna rot / lightning roll across our tracks.” This culminates linking it back to the theme of children: “All our children gonna die / Then the west will rise again.” The imagery is bleak, but he sings out with feeling and an untailored voice perfect in its raw delivery. Behind him, gentle tides of violins rise and fall with the drums.
As 2014 comes closer to an end, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything will be on my list as one of the best that the year has to offer. For the last decade or so Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, in all its forms, have consistently put out focused, challenging work that give voice to those that are disenfranchised, self conscious, and anarchic in anger. The themes are personal at its core, and universal in its feelings. It’s important that these voices exist and continue to shout from rafters, street corners, and even studios.