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A Silver Mt. Zion - This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing CD (album) cover


A Silver Mt. Zion

Post Rock/Math rock

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1 stars If albums were points in a timeline, then "This is Our Punk Rock" represents the one from wich i got definitely tired by the post rock aesthetic. Yes, it is always easy and funny to criticize progressive rock and how quickly they turned out to be caricatures of themselves ; but post rock proved - even quicker - they were unable to reinvent themselves too. Their previous effort, "Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards" sounded more Godspeed You Black Emperor! than the latest Godspeed You Black Emperor!, so gone was the more intimate approach that did define at first A Silver Mt.Zion. Now, they play with a choir, but what would be next ? They cleaned up the surface but deep inside it is the same story repeated over and over, again and again. Unless you are still addicted to this kind of music and need more new fix, not listening to their third album will not make a hole in your musical culture but instead a useless one in your wallet...
Report this review (#42608)
Posted Friday, August 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Although virtually indistinguishable from the larger and more powerful Godspeed You! Black Emperor on their first two releases, with the exception of a marginally quieter volume, it isn't surprising that with "THIS IS OUR PUNK ROCK," THEE RUSTED SATELLITES GATHER AND SING, A Silver Mt. Zion is able to come into its own. The group is still essentially the same six-piece as on the last album, with the addition of amateur choir on the first track; but with the steady addition of more confident vocals, and a sense of dynamics with more than three settings, the band accomplishes really epic, emotional music in a direction that Godspeed seems to rarely explore - there's some hope here, for one thing, and it really takes hold.

Each of these four lengthy tracks, although fully post-rock in their sound, has a prog-epic's sense of song construction. We get some reasonably complex dynamics, certainly going beyond the force restraint and melancholy of the first two albums. We get some strong melodic themes that recur the way a competently written theme ought to - songs aren't linear affairs, and at that length they ought not to be. Its true that some part of the length of each of these tunes is devoted to post-rock builds that could be seen as excessive and slow - but they are layered and arranged with such delicacy and beauty that the slight repetition can be excused. On the first track, the amateur choir takes nonsensical do-re-mi lyrics and uses them to hypnotic effect - though not professional, the lack of cookie-cutter crispness lends the affair a soulfulness and sincerity that can really be appreciated. These move slowly through about half the song with similarly building accompaniment that employs some familiar tricks - that is, until everything drops out, a mournful violin and guitar duet comes in over some swirling organic ambience before the full band meets them again and carries the song home. It's a really excellent excursion, and this whole album is flowing with a very perceptible energy that really defies logic. Take, for example, the other three songs. On previous ASMZ records, Efrim has only contributed vocals to one or two songs per disc - these are sincere and heartfelt, but usually the lowest points of their respective discs. Well, either Efrim got more confident, or was more drunk during the recording session, because the vocals are no longer really a hindrance. I would say the lyrics are a bit at a loss sometimes, and certainly Efrim is a sloppy singer with a fierce indie-boy streak in him, but he does a full on rockstar performance, using his inflection to make the words uglier, more desperate, more pathetic, or more hopeful and positive depending on the situation. The instrumentation is classic rock ensemble, basically string quartet and rock combo in one, but it suits the tone well too - just as the band has lost their fear of over-the-top emotional climaxes with this record, they haven't forgetten how to cut back, shut up more than half the band for the sake of a genuine quiet moment that is truly an evocative musical accomplishment.

As far as evolutions go, this may be a minor musical one, but even if it has to drag some new influences into the post-rock mold kicking and screaming, A Silver Mt. Zion gets it there. There are still some fairly implicit political statements made with this music too, as with many of the recording artists in the Constellation label fold, but the emotions conjured by this music are more broad and can be enjoyed regardless. Maybe a Silver Mt Zion is really just Godspeed's more abstract little sibling in theory, but in practice the music makes a fundamentally different expression that is dynamic and well arranged, but also raw, jagged and emotional in a masterful way. This is truly a worthwhile release, even if you've grown cynical of your Godspeed and Mogwai albums years ago.

Report this review (#42644)
Posted Friday, August 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars This time, a 22-piece choir has been added to the band. A Silver Mt. Zion have now become way more of a separate entity from Godspeed You Black Emperor, in which they're often compared to. It's an odd yet fitting touch, the breathtaking drops and pickups are all still here however. Efrim's voice is now more up front, this can be a bad or good thing for you, his voice is cracking. I particularly think it makes his voice very honest. This is another excellent album, nearly everything you expect from the band plus a few more twists are here.
Report this review (#44166)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars This third album of the Montreal-based GYBE! offshoot is one the two more essential ones they made so far - alongside with their previous Born Into Trouble album. This however does not mean that it is a more accessible or any less obscure than other of their records.

The opening track is maybe my favourite and the most symphonic - maybe the most Gybe!- like of all, with an absolutely splendid climax. The second track returns to a more usual ASMZ with lenghty and repetitive vocals while the next one is a quaint fusion or mix of the first two track styles. The last track is getting a little lost with its huge endless choral-like chants with the lead reminding of the most depressing Neil Young (circa Tonight Is The Night). Not yet essential in my eyes, this record is a typical Constellation Records product with its ups and downs.

Report this review (#55904)
Posted Friday, November 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars The third offering from the Mt. Zion (etc. etc.) collective takes a dip a little in terms of being interesting or innovative. They try (I think), but sometimes innovation can backfire. That’s probably why this is called experimental music.

I can’t decide if the cheap-looking cover is simply a reflection of apathy on the part of the band, or if they actually thought it was clever. I didn’t.

The music is scored quite a bit different than previous albums. This time the band takes more of a ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ approach, with only four tracks that wind on for more than ten minutes each. Like the album that would follow, this one starts of with some sort of recording of what I assume to be Sophie Trudeau sounding a bit like an annoying participant in some sort of rehearsal. There are actually some fairly decent female backing harmonies here that add a nice new dimension to the music, but overall the vocals take the form of a polyphonic type of chanting that I used to see bald guys in white robes do in the Denver airport while trying to sell me posies. Tim DeLaughter and his Polyphonic Spree actually already traveled this ground and frankly they are much better at it, so maybe the Mt. Zion folks should stick to what they’re good at.

Anyway, that pretty much describes the first track “So Some Lonesome Corners So Many Flowers Bloom”, Menuck and some other guy (bassist Thierry Amar maybe?) doing their chanting thing with the rest of the group forming a kind of uber-creepy choral backing. This was actually kind of interesting the first couple of times I heard it, but if I want really good pseudo-religious chanting I’ll buy a Gregorian monks CD.

Eventually the singing fades away and the ubiquitous strings take center stage, but by the time they manage to work up a slightly frenzied crescendo I realize it’s really the drummer and Menuck’s guitar doing most of the work and I kind of lose interest.

“Babylon was built on fire/Starsnostars” takes forever to get going, starting with just silence and slowly adding a pulsating guitar, then strings, then some bells and electronic static (I assume that’s not actually from the studio tapes), and eventually Menuck starts with the singing again. By the band’s third album I have actually tired of this, and am distracting a bit by Thierry’s upright bass, which is more prominent here than I recall in any previous work by the band. There appears to be some sort of experiment in quadraphonic vocals toward the end, but since I don’t have a fancy home entertainment system it just ends up sounding like one of my speakers is cutting out. I actually have to admit I didn’t like this track much and have skipped it several times when playing this CD.

“American motor over smoldered field” starts off with one male and one female voice singing what sort of sounds like some fifties hillbilly tune, or maybe an old Green on Red recording. Just an aside, but every time I hear this album I picture Trudeau, violinist Jessica Moss, and cellist Rebecca Foon standing on a concrete studio floor barefoot with hairy armpits and baggy tie-died tshirts, looking bored. That’s probably rude, but hey – I can’t control my thoughts, I blame the music.

This one has a very cool buildup in the middle though, as energetic as anything Mt. Zion have done to-date, with the guitar dominating but both violins and the cello working themselves to a frenzy alongside. Unfortunately this doesn’t last nearly long enough and we’re left with the spacey violins and Menuck’s brain-addled ramblings again to close the song out.

The band saves the best for last on this album. “Goodbye desolate railyard” is an excellent tune, although quite a departure for these guys. The song starts out with acoustic guitar which is soon joined by Menuck’s Kermit the Frog vocals, but here he’s at least fully coherent and I can follow the lyrics. They don’t make much sense, but I can follow them. Here he really does sound like the guy from Green on Red, by the way. This is a very stark work, mostly piano and one violin and Menuck singing like a dying cat. There is an extended instrumental buildup in the middle here as well, but this one sounds like the quittin’ time whistle at a chicken processing plant played over the sound of a freight train being loaded and sent off into the night. Clever maybe, but drawn out much too long to really hold the listener’s attention.

I really do like these guys, this album aside. This one certainly doesn’t represent their finest moment. The ‘clever’ sound effects mostly backfire, the arrangements are largely listless and don’t seem to lead anywhere, and Menuck should really quit singing. There’s more good music coming from our crazy Canadian cousins on subsequent albums, but this one is for collectors only. Two stars.


Report this review (#96110)
Posted Saturday, October 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars No, this is NOT Punk Rock :)

ASMZ is a Post-Rock band, and I’m sure that half of readers will stop reading right now. Post-Rock is a unique kind of music; you must be sure if you like it or hate it, there are no compromises. ASMZ is a GYBE off-shot (Efrim’s side-project), but it’s rarely sounds like GYBE. There are acoustic guitars, pianos, vilons, female and male vocals...but wait, they even have choir here! Very minimalistic and a little bit more up-lifting than GYBE, ASMZ shined on their debut 2000 record, but later lost some part of their charm (IMHO) and became just boring in parts. Recommended for Post-Rock (because this is very good CD after all) devotees, but beginners should begin with ASMZ’s “He has left us alone…” album or better any GYBE one.

Report this review (#132125)
Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Adding an amateur choir to the lineup and mutating their band name yet again, A Silver Mt. Zion embrace the vocal performances and found sounds which parent band Godspeed You Black Emperor abandoned on Yanqui UXO. Efraim does a brilliant job of weaving all these disparate elements into a cohesive whole - for instance, on the closing track Goodbye Desolate Railyard, on which the band's playing reaches a crescendo which seamlessly becomes a mechanical shriek heralding a series of railroad noises before these once again mutate into the band and choir singing farewell to the listener. Sure, maybe the post-rock thing was getting old when this one came out, but few bands do it better.
Report this review (#660963)
Posted Friday, March 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Best SMZ Album!

This is not only their most progressive, but most musical and most emotional album. I am shocked by the lower scores for this here. This sees the band writing extended epics - one on each side of the double vinyl album - and in turn developing their musical ideas over longer overlapping themes with quieter, sensitive violin and guitar compositions, while still remaining true to their post-apocalyptic post-punk ethos. Each of the four pieces on this album is unique and distinct - not only from each other, but from the rest of their catalogue. Side 1 ("So Some Lonesome Corners So Many Flowers Bloom") features a rag-tag improvised choir and a slow-building crescendo that is very musical despite representing an almost free experiment. The song is very hypnotic and beautiful, almost in a Floydian way (indeed, sections of this piece actually remind me of (though very different from) Atom Heart Mother). Side 2 ("Babylon Was Built On Fire/Starsnostars") is to my mind SMZ's most musical song (not only on this album, but their entire catalogue). It begins with some amazing soundscapes, slowly introducing the main themes. The vocals are here are very effective, slowly building until each of the song's different themes are all being sung at once by different singers, bouncing off each other in a beautiful rag-tag counterpoint of overlapping melodies. Awesome music! Side 3 ("American Motor Over Smoldered Field") is another of SMZ's most musical songs ever. Containing some rare but beautiful (in a post-apocalyptic way!) vocal harmonies, the song remains subdued for the first 4.5 minutes, but then the drums and bass/cello/guitar pulses kick in. Check out the section that begins just before the 9 min mark which then continues to the end with the 'choir' singing the lyrical theme. So innovative yet deeply musical and emotional music. Side 4 ("Goodbye Desolate Railyard"), characterized by acoustic guitar finger-picking in a major key overlaid with piano and sunrise-violin lines, has a very American feel to it. Very happy-sad melancholy, shifting into musique concrette with thunderstorm and railway soundscapes, and then back to the main theme on acoustic guitar with the key lyric then repeated by the band. While I find the other three sides to be even stronger, this is a great closer for this great, original album. Of course, you have to like Efrim's/the bands' tortured, out of key singing, and this one will take a few listens before the underlying musicality emerges (you are probably not likely to get it on first listen). But this is definitely worth the effort. For me, this is the second-best album out of the entire GYBE/SMZ catalogue, after "Lift Yer Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven". I give this 9.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 5 PA stars. One of the most original, authentic, innovative, musical and moving albums.

Report this review (#1706977)
Posted Friday, March 31, 2017 | Review Permalink

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