The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band With Choir
Just when you think their band name couldn't get any longer, the band formerly known as simply A Silver Mt. Zion has gone and changed their name to The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band With Choir. It's the 3rd name in as many albums for the group, and it's mainly an aesthetic one given the only very slight changes in direction musically, but at the very least it shows that the group is willing to change.
To be completely honest, I was sort of hesitantly excited when I heard that the group would be putting out a new album. On one hand, it was a group that had floored me with beautiful tracks on both their Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward release, as well as their debut of He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Room, but it was sometime after the last Godspeed You! Black Emperor album (and seeing them live) that I realized I could only take so much more of the same thing from either group musically. I'll be the first to admit that things are pretty fucked in the world right now (in many more ways than one) and we still need music that reminds us of that (because God knows there's always an overabundance of vapid distractions), but I was hoping that ASMZ would keep me interested by expanding their boundaries again.
On This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather And Sing, there are again moments of expansion, and also tracks where the group falls back into a well-worn place. The nearly hourlong release is split into 4 long tracks that are in turn split into several mini-movements each. In some ways, it's like the aforementioned Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna To Heaven release, as many ideas are explored over the course of long pieces that flow together naturally. The first piece is also the longest, and it's probably the most amazing thing that the band has done to date. "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom" is 16 minutes long, but none of it is wasted. After a sort of found-sound countdown, the track moves into a mainly choral piece in which the only lyrics are "fa," "so," and "la," but depth (at least 7 layers of vocals) and spirit with which they are sung turn the track into something hugely powerful. After this opening half, the track quiets to soft string ambience before another rousing mini-orchestral finale closes things out with a string-driven rumble.
"Babylon Was Built On Fire/StarsNoStars" opens with filtered guitar ripples before slowly coalescing into a slithering string-driven piece with pained vocals by Efrim. They're the most direct lyrics that he's ever penned for the group, and despite being rather subdued musically, when he sings, "it hurts," you can feel it in your teeth. The second half the track changes into a haunting vocal round before launching into the third piece "American Motor Over Smoldered Field," which unfortunately doesn't really add anything to the previously explored ideas, as Efrim again sings striking lyrics (this time even more pointed) over meandering strings and guitars. Only when the track reaches a midway point does it really take off, with instruments flaring up to a minor tempest before closing with a repeated chorus driven by string attacks.
"Goodbye Desolate Railroad" closes the album with a lament for a railyard being turned into track housing, and given the history of the group and their railroad themes, it's actually the second most effective track on the disc (by now everyone knows the story with the crushed pennies created outside the Hotel2Tango for the LP release of f#a# infinity ). Opening with stark guitars and vocals, the track turns into sort of a ballroom waltz with piano and strings before slowly, slowly building into a dense, shimmering mass of layered noise. Fittingly, the track closes with a field recording of trains, and the album is over. Overall, there are some really great ideas explored in both the first and last tracks of the release, while the middle section gets somewhat saggy in places. While it's not their strongest overall album, it has some of the best work that they've done to date, and while it has some things in common with the past, it shows the group still isn't afraid to tackle new ideas as well.