Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band - 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons
Experimental Rock
16 songs (59:10)
Release year: 2008
Reviewed by James
Album of the month

I've become rather enamoured with Canadian post-rock gods Godspeed You! Black Emperor as of late, so it was only natural that I would check out the latest release by Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band (I'm going to refer to them by their original name A Silver Mt Zion for much of this review to save time typing). For those not aware, A Silver Mt Zion started up as a side-project by Godspeed You! Black Emperor members Efrim Menuck, Sophie Trudeau and Thierry Amar. However, now that their main band seems to have toddled off into the sunset, A Silver Mt Zion has become the main project of the three. They're mainly known for changing their name on every album (previous names have included Thee Silver Mount Elegies and Thee Silver Mountain Reveries), and having the reputation of being the Foo Fighters to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Nirvana.

It's a little unfair to make this comparison though, as 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons is a far cry from GY!BE. Efrim began the project as a more intimate, personal counterpart to GY!BE's epic, orchestral post-rock, and this certainly isn't really deserving of the post-rock tag. As you might expect, 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons is built around Menuck's guitar. The man is allowed to cut loose here, plating noisy, grungy riffs that the songs revolve around. He also sings here, and a lot of people will hate his vocals. Far from being attempting to be sweetly melodic, Menuck sings in a sardonic howl, more in the manner of a punk rock singer than anything else. Indeed, Menuck has repeatedly stated the importance of a punk aesthetic in A Silver Mt Zion's music in many interviews. Although his lyrics are usually either completely unintelligible (diction is not his strong point) or too oblique to know what he's on about, there's an overwhelming sense that A Silver Mt Zion are continuing with the same political drive that initially spurred on GY!BE, with constant reference to mysterious “bankers”. I have no idea what it means, but when Menuck drawls “The hangman's got a hard-oooonnnnnnnn!” I am left with no doubt that he's supremely pissed-off about something. Opener 1000000 Died To Make This Sound (not counting the twelve tracks of guitar feedback that start off the record) really feels like an event, a happening, revolving as it does around the steely chant of the song's title. Although most will never hear it, this song is somehow a call-to-arms.

Elsewhere, fellow GY!BE member Sophie Trudeau offers the ties to that band's sound, playing the same sort of weeping melodies we'd expect from that band. She gets a little lost in the mix during the louder moments, being buried under the triple-guitar onslaught of sludgy riffola. However, on mellower track Black Waters Bowed/Broken Engine Blues she gets to shine, especially after the louder middle section, where everything quietens back down, and she plays a folky melody while Menuck sings “The trouble you're in is not your own,”. A stomping drum beat backs it up, and the rest of the band join in the singing, the music turning into a quietly powerful protest song. It's a spectacularly defiant fuck you to the powers that be, the band sounding bloodied but unbent, unbroken and unbowed. It's every bit as powerful a moment as anything in the GY!BE catalogue, making up what it lacks in intensity in sheer emotional power.

Although I love the idea of A Silver Mt Zion rocking out, loud and proud, it's on the latter half of the record, when the band mellow out a bit and a folkier sound begins to creep in, with just a hint of the lo-fi indie folk of the Elephant 6 collective in the mix, that the band really shine. Closer Blindblindblind is incredibly sparse music for musicians known for working on such an epic scale, spending its eight minutes with just touches of guitar and violin and Efraim's plaintive singing. The music builds into another loud crescendo, but this time it sounds blissful rather than belligerent, the loud guitars and violins working together. Finally the instruments drop out, until we are left with the band's chant of “some hearts are true” to send us off.

This has been one of the longest reviews I've written, and I'm not entirely sure why I had so much to say about this record. It's relatively simple compared to GY!BE but it moves me just as much as they do, in a way that no other release this year has done. It's both a heavy, abrasive, raging statement of political ire, and a continuation of the late 60s protest folkies, quietly resisting with as much fire in its belly as the heavier songs. And I suppose I've fallen in love with this album because it's so defiant, so unprepared to take things lying down. Punk rock, if you will.

Killing Songs :
All except the untitled tracks
James quoted 95 / 100
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