Published on April 11th, 2014 | by Mike Conlon0
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra are channeling a smart contradiction of hope and despair on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything.
‘Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything’ [‘FOGF’] is the first Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra album since the birth of Ezra, the son of bandmates Efrim Menuck and Jessica Moss. It’s Ezra (now four years old) who kicks off the album, stating, “We live on an island called Montreal. And we make a lot of noise because we love each other.” The statement hits on the most salient characteristic of ‘FOGF’. This album is loud. So loud that when you turn the volume down it’s still loud. Though ‘FOGF’ is more sonically aggressive than anything Silver Mt. Zion has released to this point, the album still feels like the natural follow up to their previous album ‘Kollaps Tradixionales.’ On that album, the band was transitioning from their early spacious, unhurried musical explorations toward a more visceral (see loud) approach. On ‘FOGF’ Silver Mt. Zion doesn’t straddle the line — they’ve planted their flag firmly on punk/noise-rock terrain, a direction they’ve really been headed since 2008’s ‘Since 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons.’
The harsh opening drums of the track ‘Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)’ immediately make it clear that Silver Mt. Zion aren’t taking any prisoners this time around. Moments later, Menuck’s distorted guitar enters the fray alongside the dissonant violins of Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeau (this guitar and violin interplay, in which the sounds either jarringly collide against one another or indistinguishably blend into each other, continues throughout the entire album. It’s always been the most distinct characteristic of the Silver Mt. Zion sound, and it’s more prominent than ever). And then Menuck starts singing. Menuck’s voice is not without its detractors, but on this track and throughout the rest of the album, it is a powerful (though brittle) weapon, simultaneously conveying shimmering optimism and acidic despair.
In these songs, hope and despair press up against one another like sweaty teenagers in the back of a car at Makeout Point. On the epic ‘Austerity Blues,’ Menuck declares that, “thieves and liars rule everything we know / And thieves and liars rule everything that grows.” The lyrics paint a bleak picture, but the music feels optimistic, if only because nothing of such sheer intensity can ever feel downbeat. In an interview with Vish Khanna on the Kreative Kontrol podcast, Menuck stated, “rage is a good source of hope.” It’s true — the angrier and more frenzied this music gets, the more inspiring it is: out of the music’s sheer rage comes hope and love. And so it is at the song’s end that Menuck can only hope his son lives, “long enough to see that mountain torn down.” That mountain representing everything Silver Mt. Zion fails against: institutions of all stripes, corporate domination, and deception.
FOGF opens with a quote from Ezra, a young, optimistic child; later on it includes quotes from the more weathered and less optimistic Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of MC5 and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. Varied as these quotes are, they all touch on what it means to be a working musician. It’s as if fatherhood has caused Menuck to reflect more intensely on his chosen occupation. Just before the album’s last track, ‘Rains Thru the Roof at the Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez),’ Fred Smith points out that music is, “more than just something you do on the weekend. It’s something you devote your life to.” This devotion has its consequences and its casualties, which the closing track’s title makes reference to. Capital Steez was a talented NYC rapper who committed suicide Christmas Eve in 2012.
‘Take Away These Early Grave Blues’ is an all out aural assault that follows up on the promise of the album’s first two tracks. It delivers on the tried and true formula of mixing hope and despair. At the broadest view, ‘FOGF,’ like other Silver Mt. Zion albums, is about maintaining integrity and optimism in a corrupt world. The band shouts angrily and gleefully in the face of unstoppable oppression, knowing that we can only “love each other, that’s all.” After the powerhouse opening trifecta that is “Fuck Off Get Free,” “Austerity Blues,” and “Take Away These Early Grave Blues,” Silver Mt. Zion reign things in with a lullaby-esque track, “Little Ones Run.” Even here, the lyrics provide counterpoint to music itself. The singsong lyrics describe a group of birds’ nests overturned by a strong gust of wind, and in this state of displacement, “the big ones hunt, and the little ones run.” This is not your mother’s lullaby.
Perhaps the most striking track on this album is, ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough.’ The title hearkens back to Ezra’s sound bite earlier in the album. Except in place of innocence and naivety is cold despair. Menuck bleakly portends, “war in our cities / And riots at the mall / Blood on our doorsteps / And panics at the ball.” However, these guys never hang their heads for long. Just when things are at their bleakest, the drums enter, the electric guitar and violins swell together, and you’re lifted from the darkness.
Just last year, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (whose line up includes three Silver Mt. Zion members) won the Polaris Music Prize. In what has gone done in Internet lore, they refused the award and its accompanying winnings. It’s a good bet that FOGF will be nominated for the Polaris this year, if the rave reviews of Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, Exclaim!, and a host of other outlets are any indication. Awesome as this album is, I doubt it’ll win, though it would be fascinating to see just how Silver Mt. Zion would reject the award. Would they follow the course of Godspeed! and have a representative pen a group-statement that explained how the award didn’t jive with their existence? Or would they individually go on the record about their rejection of the award? Maybe they’d actually accept it? I digress. ‘FOGF’ is the product of a band in peak form. None of their previous albums have been this good, and the bar has been set high for future records. The indie landscape is littered with apathetic acts, so Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra are refreshing in their willingness to wear ethics, values, and political sentiment on their sleeves. Plus they pull it off. Giving a shit doesn’t always sound this good.