Music

The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band with Choir: This Is Our Punk Rock

John Kenyon

Choir

"This is Our Punk Rock": Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing

Display Artist: The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band With Choir
Label: Constellation
US Release Date: 2003-09-02
UK Release Date: 2003-08-25
Amazon
iTunes

PopMatters offers a writer a generous amount of space in which to make a point -- several actually -- about a particular CD. That space would seem more than adequate for almost anything the music industry could throw our way, from multi-CD box sets to the most intricate jazz imaginable. But seeing a particular CD in my mailbox, I must admit, I panicked.

The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band with Choir's latest disc, "This is Our Punk Rock": Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing. That's a paragraph right there, let alone song titles like "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom" or "Babylon Was Built on Fire/Starsnostars".

The group always has been wordy. Previous discs include He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms and Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward, while even its name has lengthened over time, adding the "Tra-la-la Band" part on Born Into and "with Choir" for the current disc.

The band is an offshoot of equally odd/wordy Canadians Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and like that band, the group has been adept at wrenching beauty from dissonance, creating multi-textured work from instrumental themes. "Hearts in need make symphonies," it says inside this cardboard sleeve of this disc, and so it would seem the hearts of the folks in both bands (and various offspring, which number 15 at this writing) definitely are in need.

But the symphonies this time out have changed, and not for the better. The tip off is the new part of the band's name on this outing: "with Choir". The band's name grows to accommodate new members. The core trio now numbers at least six, with 24 people credited as "Thee Rusted Satellite Choir". Though vocals have popped up sparingly on past discs, the band was really an instrumental group. No more, and by adding vocals the mix here -- unpleasant vocals, at that -- Silver Mt. Zion offers an aural roadblock, taking the listener right out of the experience of the disc without re-engaging that listener by offering something compelling to make up for the interruption.

Now, this is all relative, of course. The songs can take a minute or two before they even register with your ears, the amount of time some bands take to play an entire song. Then again, when you're stretching your songs out over the course of 15 minutes or more, it makes sense to take your time getting into things. And with that slow build come plenty of instrumental moments that equal if not surpass the best spots on the band's previous releases.

But vocals are all over this. On the opener, "Sow Some Lonesome Corner", they are used to good effect, as the choir chants "Fa So La" in a crescendo as the first half of the piece draws to a close. The song then begins again, building slowly toward an instrumental cacophony. It's odd to stick the vocals at the front end of the piece, but few would accuse the band of predictability.

"Babylon Was Built on Fire/Starsnostars" uses vocals less successfully, the atonal yelp dropped into the song at various points. The song takes minutes to build to an audible level, but even then never really goes anywhere. The vocals reach a critical mass about 10 years in as they sing "citizens in their homes, and missiles in their homes" repeatedly. There is a point here, but I'll be damned if I can suss out what it is.

The third track, "American Motor over Smoldered Field", is the shortest, clocking in at just over 12 minutes. That's a good thing, as it's the least successful of the four. The vocals start early here before ceding the airwaves to the band's most rock tempos on the disc. The fourth tune, "Goodbye Desolate Railyard", suffers a similar fate, forced to accommodate singer and guitarist Efrim's atonal (if a cracking voice can truly be considered atonal) vocals within an otherwise pretty, string-driven melody. That track has a minutes-long fade that evolves into the sound of -- what else? -- a railyard before the chorus breaks out again to close the disc.

The disc is variously dedicated to "All the four-legged ones and for bruised hearts worldwide and for anyone who ever had bad electricity in their head" and to "traintrack wanderers everywhere". Yes, as with everything else, the band is even wordy when it comes to dedications.

One wishes, however, that the band would take some of the energy required by coming up with long band names, song titles and dedications, and apply it to making more compelling music. The one-sheet with the disc says this is the group's most rehearsed and arranged disc to date. Maybe this is a case of over-preparation, or simply of musicians not recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses. Music this pastoral, this slowly evolving, should be soothing, and thought provoking. But with some odd choices and questionable changes of direction on "This is Our Punk Rock", the band seems to strive for something more without ever getting there.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.