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A Silver Mt. Zion - Horses In The Sky CD (album) cover

HORSES IN THE SKY

A Silver Mt. Zion

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.87 | 83 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Well, if you are a fan of experimental music than you shouldn’t complain when the artists actually experiment, I suppose. And that’s what is going on with this latest release from the Silver Mt. Zion Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Tra la la Band with Canadian Mounties, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days.

The use of vocals has been growing with each succeeding album since their debut. On this album there are vocals on every track; in fact, vocals are at the forefront of every track. This is new. Also, the lyrical themes seem to be taking on a more coherent form, although on close reflection there are certainly many subjective layers of interpretation to most of the words.

And Efrim Menuck’s singing seems to have actually improved somewhat. I don’t know if he has taken a cue from a marketing focus group or something (‘though I seriously doubt it), but he appears to be actually making a conscious attempt to focus on articulation and at least keeping within the general scope of the key in which each song is set, so that’s a plus.

Musically this is a considerably better effort than the band’s previous two albums, with complex, layered arrangements that bring the focus back to what made this an interesting band in the first place – the strings, and to a certain extent Menuck’s oddly- constructed guitar riffs as well.

The first few times I heard “God Bless Our Dead Marines” I took it for a generic anti-war song. But I think there’s a bit more to the message than that – the lyrics actually speak rather bitterly to a general attitude of apathy on the part of the mass public, with vignettes about friends lost to drug addiction, suicide, and bad living. The words are bitter, but the music has a certain defiant tone to it that reminds me of some of the post-punk works of social commentators like Ani DiFranco and Jim Carroll. Not the same type of music certainly, but in that vein for sure. The rhythm seems to be somewhat akin to Jewish klezmer music with its ‘oom-pa-pa’ lumbering and stark, moody piano. This is a track that can grow on you over time, but sets the tone for an album that is only vaguely associated with most post-rock music. This is quite a bit closer to indie rock than it is to experimental music.

The pervading theme of “Mountains Made of Steam” just seems to be despair about the general condition of our world from a social awareness standpoint. This has another of those oddly harmonic chorale sections that the band seems to be making a part of their overall sound the past few years, but also includes a rather torrid though brief climax in the middle with cacophonic strings and drums mashing wildly, followed by a long stretch of mumbled vocals and subdued strings that seem to project a sense of resigned acceptance, but not despair. This one has a great mood to it, but is not for those who suffer from clinical depression for sure.

The title track appears to represent a kind of message of cautious hope and a prayer for a safe future to a child, or perhaps a lover. I actually like it when Mt. Zion include acoustic guitar in building the mood of their songs, although this is the only time I can recall that and entire composition is centered around that instrument. This is clearly meant to be a reflective and emotional song, and it hits the mark beautifully.

“Teddy Roosevelt's Guns” is rather weak compared to the rest of the album, but the very slowly-building sonic quality is pure Mile End stuff, and could have belonged to any number of bands out of that family of musicians. There seems to be little real point to the lyrics, or if there is then it is Canuck-centric enough to be los on the general public. But the music is more what we’ve come to expect of Mt Zion – a slowly building but not ever really climaxing string and rhythm arrangement that works better as background mood music than it does on the front-burner of our consciousness.

The lyrics for “Hang on to Each Other” remind me of that old cartoon that shows a frog stuck inside the mouth of a crane who is desperately reaching up with both hands around the crane’s neck trying to choke him. The caption reads “never, ever, ever give up”. That’s the message here. Look up the lyrics, they’re awkwardly inspiring in a post- rock kind of way. The music isn’t anything special since the emphasis is the chanting “hang on to each other” refrain, but this is the song that probably captures the overall social message of Mt. Zion better than any other. There’s nothing progressive about it though – this is yet another composition that pushes the band closer to the more traditional indie genre than it does post-rock, but who’s to quibble?

On “Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)” the band puts forward some sort of pleading message about all of us just getting along, or focusing on the important things in life, or something with a similarly-focused magnanimous theme. Unfortunately, even though all the lyrics are clear, the message isn’t, so I can’t really rally behind whatever it is the band is trying to rally toward, if anything. Musically this is more of the same, and I suspect there’s a powerful message here, I just don’t get it. That actually makes it an very appropriate ending to this album.

There seems to be something of a theme that runs like a thread through this album, and the message speaks to being alive and aware and probably many other things as well. It’s much too focused and opinionated to fit neatly into the genre this band is generally cast in, but in some ways that’s a good thing since as fans we claim to be interested in musical experimentation. So like I said at the outset, the band has clearly experimented here. And nothing falls flat like it did on their “This is our punk rock…” album, so I would recommend giving this album a try if you are into the Mile End type of bands, experimental music in general, or just feel like getting your blood pressure up for a little while. Four stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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