“Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!”
It begins with sweet Ezra’s voice: “We live on the island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise… because we love each other!” and then very abruptly, there’s noise and light on everything. It’s terrifying and empowering, it’s beautiful and ugly–sometimes all at once. But I heard that they’re really a bunch of anarchists from this place called Kanada. They keep changing their name so you never know what they are called and they keep making an awful lot of noise. You best lift your skinny fists.
The influence and mystery of Constellation Records bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion and Black Ox Orkestar extend far, but for the most part has remained on the fringe of popular culture. Until recently. Fuck Off… is Constellation’s first major release since Godspeed famously received Canada’s esteemed Polaris Prize and then regifted their earnings of $30,000 to music education programs in Quebec prisons. Godspeed found it important to add that, “organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.” So that’s the climate for Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything. The critics are listening in but it hardly matters.
So this time around, we’re calling them Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and make no mistake, this is a band that is far from where it began. Things started out 15 years ago as a mere creative outlet for Godspeed’s ringleader and guitarist, Efrim Menuck. The songs were primarily instrumental and helped define the post-rock genre, but nowadays Silver Mt. Zion seem to defy that categorization altogether, with a current lineup that utilizes every member as a vocalist. So as the years pass, the band has become defined less by their sound and more by the punk ethos they’ve maintained, along with a firm commitment to their craft.
The powerhouse tracks are stacked at the top of the album. “Fuck Off Get Free” sounds like a jacked up Godspeed track instrumentally, but the punk infused vocals are distinctly Silver Mt. Zion. Next up is the excellent and sprawling “Austerity Blues,” which is the longest of the batch at 14 minutes. As the song eventually unwinds, the vocals end with a refrain written by a new and worried parent: “Lord, let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down.”
The children thread runs deeper with “Little Ones Run,” a song that operates like “Ring Around the Rosy.” It’s all charm on the surface, but that carefree melody feels a whole lot heavier once the lyrics are realized. The ladies of the band croon,“Wake up darling the moon is gone / The sky’s a mess and falling down,” and suddenly it’s hard to imagine finding much sleep from this lullaby. Menuck delivers his strongest vocal performance on the stirring “What We Loved Was Not Enough.” The track plays like a eulogy for humanity and Menuck’s vision doesn’t feel so from what Huxley feared in Brave New World.
On the last song, Silver Mt. Zion does to Detroit’s Grande Ballroom theatre what Percy Shelley did with Ramesses II’s statue in “Ozymandias.” The track starts with Fred “Sonic” Smith of The MC5 talking about his relationship with music, but it might as well be Mt. Zion’s mission statement. MC5 and others recorded in this Grande Ballroom and the place was a landmark for a thriving and radical counterculture. But it went the way of all empires by crumbling as mightily as it had risen. The movement and the key players are dead, but the Grand Ballroom is “still breathing,” and perpetually guarding a fallen empire like Ozymandias’ statue.
This might be Silver Mt. Zion’s most personal effort to date, in how it presents Moss and Menuck as new parents grappling with how to raise a child in a broken world. Constantly throughout, Menuck displays a willingness to sacrifice everything if that means that he might help fix our pressing problem with apathy. But the real answer as to how we might all be saved of this is delivered by baby Ezra in the first seconds: the way to escape the cycle is to make noise.
Sonically, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is an all too rare example of music that aims for the sublime. The material provokes such a diverse spectrum of emotions. There’s nothing casual about it; this is music as labor. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra evoke beauty and awe, they seek to inspire hope and transmit great fear. And the moments when these things happen simultaneously, well, it really is sublime.