[24 January 2014]
There’s a common question that comes up in the music reviewing world. How many times should you listen to an album before you review it? Some think that the initial feelings that an album imparts should the basis for a review. Others think that albums need much more time to mature and grow. I’m of the latter group, in part, thanks to albums like Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s newest epic, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything. The first few listens through Fuck Off gave the impression of an intriguing yet frustrating album that I was ready to put aside. Now, I find it a pummeling and fulfilling album that is still revealing its many hidden treasures. This isn’t an easily accessed album and it has its fair share of flaws, but Fuck Off will reward those who wait.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s merry band of rabble rousers are part of Constellation Records, a label famous for releasing some of the most experimental and fascinating music of the 21st century. Albums by avant-garde saxophonists Colin Stetson and Mantana Roberts have been released by Constellation, as well as all the Godspeed You! Black Emperor LPs. Thee Silver Mt. Zion has a connection to Godspeed deeper than just being labelmates. Three out of the five players on Fuck Off—bassist Thierry Amar, violinist Sophie Trudeau, and guitarist Efrim Menuck—are core members of Godspeed and it shows. Three songs here go over the ten-minute mark and the lyrical themes are aggressive and political. There’s a ferocity here that teeters on the edge of instability, particularly on the more mammoth tracks. Fuck Off’s closest kin in terms of sound is the ramshackle glory of Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor. Both albums played with epic themes through the filter of messy and distorted rock that leaned towards insanity and balanced shorter tracks with goliath pieces.
The more succinct songs here only make up a scant part of the album, but they are absolutely necessary, often combining beautiful restraint with a mournful atmosphere that puts the more thrashing pieces in perspective. These tracks further emphasize Mt. Zion’s passionate song writing and lyrical content. The shimmering outro track is dedicated to deceased PRO ERA member Capital Steez and rolls along with a pained and passionate cry of “hold on!” The shortest track here “Little Ones Run” is also one of the album’s best songs. It’s a curious piece, based around sleepy piano and enchanting vocals that seem to spiral around in odd ways. Even with the melancholy that cloaks the song stunning beauty shines through.
The album’s longest track “Austerity Blues” clocks in at over 14 minutes and, surprisingly, keeps an excellent pace throughout. The shuddering beginning slowly grows with guitar tremors expanding in the background until the song falls into an understated groove. Mt. Zion let the guitars hover above the beat before the song explodes into a more jammy section, only to be followed by an extremely dark and slashing segment. Miraculously another great piece overtakes the song, a swelling anthem that rolls along at an energizing pace. “What We Loved Was Not Enough” serves as excellently somber waltz that ends with a gospel inspired outro that’s as powerful as it is beautiful. The opening track does, unfortunately, need a bit of editing. It begins with a surprisingly catchy and hardy intro and closes with a gritty and dark outro that serves as one of the album’s most thrilling moments, but sandwiched between those two great sections is a meandering few minutes that seem lost. The previously mentioned “Austerity Blues” also has an awkward section as the ending few minutes seem pointless and add nothing to the song, though it’s not enough to truly bring down the rest of the piece.
There is a middle ground that is reached on Fuck Off. “Take Away These Early Grave Blues” has Mt. Zion staring down the apocalypse with an energizing punk attitude. The drums are booming (drummer David Payant is an absolute beast throughout the album) and the strings match Menuck’s howling voice. The avalanching drum patterns combine with furious violins as the entire band cries “Take away these! Take away these!” Despite the need for a few edits, there’s an earnestness permeating Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything that becomes infectious. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra know that the world is ending and they want, no need you to help them save it.