Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Posted on Monday, 20 January 2014 | No Comments
After much drama and sturm und drang, we arrive at the point of departure. Rains Thru the Roof at Thee Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez) is the closing track of Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, the latest release from the band presently known as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - formerly A Silver Mt Zion, Thee Silver Mountain Reveries and most absurdly of all, Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band with Choir - and a welcome side-step from the crazed intensity of much of the album beforehand. It's a song that, if we leave the brief campfire reverie of Little Ones Run aside, marks the only real moment of peace and solitude in a sonically dense, spiritually rightous piece of work. It's an orchestral coda that sounds at once vast and desolate, the greatest link between what these musicians once were, a functional if not earth-shattering offshoot from that monolith known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and the very different band they've spent the last decade evolving into.
Where their early, largely instrumental work as A Silver Mt Zion was introverted, almost avoiding the gaze of the audience, this however steps foward to meet the listener head on, to invite them into the scene. Then there's that dedication as well to the late rapper Capital Steez, a hugely promising member of the Pro Era crew who killed himself at just 19 in 2012. Back in the days of pure post-rock gloom, you'd be forgiven for imagining that this Montreal collective listened to nothing else but number stations recordings and obscure twentieth-century orchestral work, such was the level of insular paranoia. But here we are in 2014, and Efrim Menuck and his band are paying bittersweet, hymnal tribute to the memory of this young talent that passed away much too soon, and reaching out in turn to all those who feel that they can't go on or who have lost someone or something vital. It's a level of direct emotional engagement and that's all the more powerful for how unexpected and utterly genuine it is, and a final connection with the rebel spirit that both fuels the album and to which the album as a whole is ultimately dedicated to fostering.
Because if nothing else, what Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything demonstrates so vividly throughout is how much Thee Silver Mt. Zion have grown and changed as a band. It's the record they've been pushing towards for a while - subtly since the emphasis placed on vocal tracks around the time of This is Our Punk Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, certainly from the bludgeoning rock of 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons onwards - but have never quite managed to see through all the way until now. Their previous album, Kollaps Tradixionales, introduced the slimmed-down five-piece band and tighter sense of songcraft that this album makes use of, but even that didn't manage the level of consistency and overwhelming urgency that makes this latest release such a definitive, powerful statement. Before, it felt like the band was railing at everything that wasn't part of their Montreal enclave: now, we've been invited warmly behind the barricades, and the lines of us vs. them have been redrawn to include us in the struggle. It's a vital difference that makes for a much more affecting, dramatic piece of work.
While their compositions remain as lengthy and borderline prog as ever - three of the six selections here breaking the ten-minute mark, hardly an unusual event for either Thee Silver Mt. Zion or Godspeed - they sound far leaner and more focused than the sludge monoliths they were dealing in circa 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. Part of this is down to the garage-y production of the album, with the guitar and strings pumped up to virtual breaking point while the drums hammer away in the background: it's a raw, practise room sound that adds a welcome grit to proceedings and keeps these ambitious compositions grounded. It's that quality of being directly besides the band, of standing in the same room while they jam out that really makes the record excel: the togetherness preaches here can only work if you're really on the same level as them, and that's just what the live sound of the finsihed product does. In further welcome news, Efrim Menuck's vocals, long one of the great sticking-points with listeners when the band moved away from post-rock to, well, rock, sound much improved here. While he's never going to be what you call a great vocalist, he does the job just fine here as a ragged, impassioned punk firebrand, yelling slogans and rallying calls into the air between swooping violin parts and metallic guitar lines. He's found his vocal identity, and he's sticking to it.
Of course, the sense of localism that has long fuelled those in the orbit of Godspeed remains present and correct here. The album opens after all with a child's voice stating "We live on the island of Montreal", before the pounding title track Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal) comes to life, a song that starts at full pelt and just gets more energised and furious as it goes on. At its heart lies a group chant of that album title, but again, what makes it so powerful is how inclusive that 'we' has become now. It's not just the 'we' of the five musicians hammering away at their instruments in the Hotel2Tango studio, but the we of anyone listening in, anyone who might care. Because this isn't fuck off in a nihilistic sense, but in a downright joyous sense. Come, join the gang: fuck off to those in charge, those with the money, those with the voices heard the loudest, because we'll find the crack in everything and send the light on through (and because hey, every Canadian band has to get to their Cohen moment eventually, right?). It sounds utterly liberating and liberated, the sound of a group of deeply intellectual artists throwing it all out and just going with their instincts for a change. No wonder their anger sounds so damn happy. Call it a Montreal of the mind or whatever you like, but it's a kind of localism that makes sense in the modern day, a shout-out from one post of resistance in Montreal to all the other practise rooms, warehouse venues and sites of wanton uncontrolled beauty out there.
As ever, the politics of the album remain both determinedly specific and curiously scattershot. The vagarity of their scene's much-trumpeted ideological stance has been called up on before (the Cokemachineglow review of Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend called Godspeed up on a few key points), and even the album's most stridently political piece, Austerity Blues, struggles to call up much more than the usual fight the man platitudes. Yet this doesn't seem as much of a problem here. The giddy openness of the record, the rebel anthem spirit in which works doesn't exactly call for strict detail, and perhaps the band have realised the limits of what they can actually say and moved on accordingly. In forgoing their 'point', they actually do a much better job of highlighting the insanity of the pseudo-logic behind austerity that any amount of typical rock-group politik talk would and providing an alternative by just bloody doing rather than saying. The great swelling riffs and blossoming vocals that Austerity Blues evolves into are far more of an effective argument that any acres of opinion pieces or political policy ever could be - like, what, are you against fun and community or something?
There's a pleasing irony that, in seemingly abandoning any pretence towards making a masterpiece or scrupulously working out the minutae of their music (remember that the band first started as a way of helping Menuck learn to read music), Thee Silver Mt. Zion have finally made the great, definitive rock album that finally blasts them out of that condescending label of a 'Godspeed side-project'. Because this is an album that takes the footsteps into communcal rock power they've made over the last decade and finally, firmly, goes all the way and reaches out to the listener. Fuck off to the weight of their history, of your history, of any expectation - they've broken free, and now they want to help you do the same.