Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band
13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
I was not around for the era of Vietnam protests to know if it applies to all rallying cries, but those against the Iraq war seem tinted with futility; there is a sense that registering complaint against the war is akin to speaking to the manager about poor customer service. We need to have our voices heard, but we seem to make no pretense about the things said being acted upon. Is this what the service economy is really about, a systematic silencing of dissent through half-lidded acknowledgement so that a response of "Duly noted" is good enough?
Montreal's angriest mouthful Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band has been one of the clearest voices against the war. Perhaps changing their name from "A Silver Mt. Zion" to "Thee Silver Mt. Zion" indicated that the point to their arrows have a more specific target than was expressed in their earlier choir outings. The first 12 tracks on this album consist of a flowing piercing signal, as if a lost cosmonaut was trying to get through, flowing into the scratchy opening to "1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound."
No undertaking is accomplished quickly on yonder Mt. Zion. The title on "1,000,000" is repeated for over two and a half minutes as the sonic template begins to unfold. Once the song really kicks in, the band sounds like the lovechild of the Julliard String Quartet and Neil Young's Crazy Horse, sawing their violins and cellos in half over a Zeppelin-heavy drumkit, all in the service of mourning the dead chewed up by the jaws of avarice. Choir director (and Godspeed You Black Emperor! guitarist) Efrim bellows "get me a goddamn shovel/ I'll dig my own damn hole" with nasal desperation that will get under every nail, every hair on the back of your neck.
I find Silver Mt. Zion exhausting to listen to - not in the sense that they are boring, but they take a lot out of you. Take the second act of this hour-long epic (each or the four songs top the 13-minute mark) "13 Blues for Thirteen Moons" ; Efrim is practically spitting his outrage over bombastic drums, engaging in call-and -repeat rage with the band. The song plods out a funeral dirge of the times for five minutes before descending into a blues wrenched from a blown-circuit amp. Same with "Black waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues" - the song moves back and forth from bereavement to beating ones chest against heaven, all with elegiac ragged glory.
The first half of "Blindblindblind" is the softest place on the album, the vocals tracked through the dark by plucked strings eventually forming and uplifting windswept power ballad, at least the kind that reminds me of Godspeed!'s epic triumphs on Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. Thee Silver Mt. Zion produces impeccably moving music that manages to find optimism at the end of a long arduous trek through anger and disappointment, and in that way, it is protest music of the finest order. It says that as long as you are willing to raise your voice, there is no reason to give up hope.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com