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A Silver Mt. Zion - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything CD (album) cover

FUCK OFF GET FREE WE POUR LIGHT ON EVERYTHING

A Silver Mt. Zion

Post Rock/Math rock


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4 stars Dark Shrieks From the Insane Asylum

I'll admit, I've never really paid too much attention to A Silver Mt Zion in the past. I've always been distracted by their overtly pretentious band names and album titles, as if they were fulfilling the horrible post-rock cliché so perfectly, by walking in the wake of Godspeed as closely as possible. I remember hearing "This Is Our Punk-Rock," Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, a while ago, and honestly not thinking much of it as a record. Although, to be honest, the problem with a lot of post-rock records is how they flow through one ear and out the other in a wave of "this is nice", and you can't really remember much about them. Although I distinctly remember, in relation to This Is Our Punk Rock, that I much preferred Mogwai's corresponding 2003 record, Happy Songs for Happy People, although the exact reasons why have completely escaped me.

So now we're in 2014 and both these bands have dropped new records within the first month. Only this time, I can say quite happily that A Silver Mt Zion have knocked Mogwai out of the park this time around, and it's not just by playing safe. Both these bands have changed their sound a bit since 2003, with Mogwai bringing in some pretty useless electronic bleeps and bloops, and ASMZ moving further away from post-rock, bringing vocals to be the most central element of their music. I don't remember much of This Is Our Punk Rock, but I most certainly remember the vocals weren't this prominent. In fact, it's hard to call Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything a post-rock record anymore. Or even an art rock record, as RYM has decided to add to their genres. The abundance of strings and 'rock instruments for non-rock purposes' technically gets them a post-rock vote by the dictionary definition, but this certainly lacks the crescendocore focus of most of the genre.

Firstly, we should note the title of this record. I mean, it's called Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything. That is bad ass. I normally think of post-rock titles to be equally pretentious and awesome, and this one definitely swings to the awesome side, at least a lot more than their previous titles. When trying to describe post-rock to the uneducated, I feel "We Pour Light On Everything" is just a perfect description, and all post-rock bands should adopt that, or something similar, as their catchphrase or slogan, because damn, I can most certainly hear the light all over this. On this particular record, A Silver Mt Zion are back to being Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra, leaving behind the Choir and Tra-La-La Band of previous incarnations, but as we should know, this makes little difference and the ever-changing name is most certainly just there for the air of pretention and 2deep4everyone-ness.

But I do unfortunately get to the point where I'm out of my depth in music writing. As much as I can respect A Silver Mt Zion on this album, I find a lot of it hard to enjoy and write about. But I'll start with a few things that are great. Firstly, the production must be praised. This is possibly the noisiest and most abrasive post-rock record I have heard in a long time, regularly bordering on shoegaze and drone in its noise, flying all around you and at you from all directions. Maybe it's just my taste at the moment, but I'm definitely starting to appreciate drone and minimalism in my rock music, even though I find drone and minimalism hard to enjoy on their own. The way the guitars are filtered and sucked through several layers of processing to end up in this tinny and distorted fuzz is just epic, and it really creates a tense and dark atmosphere.

Secondly, and I think the noisy production definitely enhances this, are the use of strings in this. Last year I was so incredibly impressed by the strings on Gris' 3rd album À l'âme enflammée, l'âme constellée..., which had the most fantastically arranged string parts during its interlude tracks, making the atmosphere of the dark and harsh music so brilliantly tense. And although Fuck Off Get Free is as far from depressive black metal as it could be, the same sort of effect is done here with the strings, playing the same sort of lines. Instead of the tremolo-picked guitars and shrieked vocals, the harsh and noisy guitars create the same dark atmosphere, and during sections like the fantastic midsection of "Austerity Blues", I can hear the same tension and brilliant layering of strings and noise and emotion that I felt on that Gris record.

But to be honest, if there's one thing I'm not feeling on this record, it's definitely the vocals. I've always been a supporter of vocals in post-rock, I feel the genre regularly dissolves into genericism and tired repetitiveness without them, and those bands that utilise them will always come off as more memorable in my ears. But the atonal and often off-key voice of Efrim Manuel Menuck regularly kills the mood in my opinion, particularly during the opening track and ones like "Take Away These Early Grave Blues". I understand why these sort of vocals are utilised, they match the harsh and abrasive nature of the guitars, but it honestly just feels like an insane person chanting on top of the music with no real aim to fit in with it. Yes, the music sounds a bit like an insane person too, but I still can't appreciate the way he simply shouts the same note over and over for minutes on end.

Many people have been complaining about the ending of this record, that it comes way too suddenly, and doesn't feel like a fitting ending. Of course, some pretentious people have gone as far as to say that the ending is a metaphor for a sudden death, that death can just happen without any warning. I'm not going to buy into that pretentious garbage, but I'm honestly just enjoying how much the final track, specifically the vocals, remind me of Manes and their Vilosophe album, a band who I have been missing for a long time and have suddenly returned just a week ago.

Honestly, this is the first record from any of the big post-rock bands that I've enjoyed, and the fact that this is only the second ASMZ record I have got into means I'll definitely be checking out their past, but I can't help but feel the reasons I enjoy this is because it isn't really a post-rock record at all. It's a noisy and abrasive chamber rock affair, with some completely delicious strings and some completely irritating vocals, so I guess it evens out in the end.

6.7/10

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Report this review (#1130949)
Posted Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars For this latest release, A Silver Mt. Zion revitalise their sound by adding some brash, energetic, punkish noise rock into their post-rock formula. With Efrim's wailing buzzsaw guitar and his fragile, plaintive vocals front and centre, it's a logical development of the group's sound (indeed, a subfaction of the gang already took the noise punk route to an extent on the Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP), and on balance whilst the album doesn't take their music to a whole new level or reach the heights of their debut or Horses In the Sky, it's a more than credible addition to the group's discography.
Report this review (#1173900)
Posted Sunday, May 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
TCat
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Just when other post rock bands latch onto the sound and formulas used by Thee Silver Mt. Zion, they change things up. Having left behind the traditional formula of slow crescendos to loud climaxes, TSMZ now jumps into their individual tracks full force and utilize dynamics in different ways than they did in their earlier years. You don't have to wait for the build up anymore. Now you get a thick wall of their rock orchestral sound starting right off at the beginning of the track with more reliance on the heaviness of guitar, strings and percussion with the occasional stripping back to expose the base of the music only to quickly build back up again, sometimes with a direction change. This is becoming less like the usual post rock that we are used to and branching out into other directions by adding a punk-ish sound and attitude (Efrim's vocals lend themselves well to this punk sound) while keeping the tracks well fleshed out and original.

There is so much music going on here, and the streamlining of the band members have given the band a more focused sound than previously. The vocals, while still sounding desperate and vulnerable are also more confident sounding. The instrumentals are more expansive and broad even with the smaller band. The 1st track "Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)" sets the stage for the atmosphere of most of the album with a heavy sound without much of a break from the thickness in the sound. The change is more in the melody and the direction of the song which goes from a harsh sound to a beautiful yet still heavy sound about halfway through. Suddenly, you know what kind of sound to expect on this album. The 2nd track "Austerity Blues" is the centerpiece of the album. It is a track that remains heavy for the most part, but when the noise is stripped away, you are left with the base of the song that you tend to enfold yourself into immediately when this sparseness starts and then suddenly you find yourself wrapped up into the noise when it builds back upon itself, and you are trapped inside. The next time it happens, you think it's time to escape, but you are drawn in further and before you know it you are trapped again.

Two shorter tracks follow with "Take Away These Early Grave Blues" which is a less developed track that follows a constant rhythmic pattern and the beautifully quiet "Little Ones Run" which acts as a break from the noise for a few minutes with a female duet and a piano, which lulls you into what I consider the best track on the album "What We Loved Was Not Enough". This track has the best and most diverse use of dynamics which keeps the same style of singing but with beautiful harmonies by the background singers and an ever changing moody epic track. This one probably is more reminiscent of the older material, but it still manages to stay away from the tired old formulaic post rock sound and ventures out with as much confidence and impact as the louder tracks. The last track is another short one which starts out as what sounds like a field recording of possible an interview and adds in vocals, percussion and a certain ambience to close out the album on a softer side.

This is post rock doing what it's supposed to do to be considered progressive, that is, it's progressing. Yes, I still consider it Post Rock, but it's exploring new avenues and staying away from the usual sound. The tracks all have vocals, which is the first welcome change from post rock, but not really different for the band who actually started out as completely instrumental and as most prog heads know, branched off from Godspeed You! Black Emperor when they went on hiatus (which is now over and both bands are alive and well). GY!BE continues to show it's power through instrumentals and drones while ASMZ continues to push forward with a reliance on more focused vocals and the modern day noise/orchestral sound. Both bands are amazing and continue to pump out quality work even after more than a decade, progressing their sound and exploring new avenues. A lot of prog lovers may have a hard time with Efrim's vocals, but the vocals fit right in to the dissonance and beauty of the music. I can't imagine any other vocal sound that would go along with this music. I can't help but think of this as a perfect example of what post rock should be doing, developing their sound and not relying on the old formulas. Because of this, the band still puts out essential masterpieces and demonstrate the direction that progressive music should be taking.

Report this review (#1388948)
Posted Friday, March 27, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Real, Heartfelt Music.

The most recent full album (2014) from A Silver Mt. Zion is excellent through-and-through. I love this band (and their cousins/alter-ego but larger Godspeed You Black Emperor-GYBE) for the integrity they bring to the act of making music. They make music they want to play, and say what they want to say, for its own sake damn the consequences. They also write out of passion and gut feeling, rather than (say) logic or aspiration, so the music is full of raw emotion and is personal. As a result, their music comes across as heartfelt, feeling, and authentic. When I listen to this, I am always reminded of a Roger Waters quip (from the Pompeii video) where he says that the only thing that matters in music (or any art) is whether it moves you. SMZ is moving and thought-provoking. While a number of commentators don't like Efrim's singing, I think it fits perfectly, and just adds to authenticity of their statement. The singing would in fact be considered poor judged against the criteria set out by vocal coaches and music schools - it is frequently out of tune, he can't reach some of the high notes he is trying to reach, his voice often cracks, etc - but to me this is beside the point. The point of this band is to be real, warts and all, and thus implicitly to challenge paradigms and stereotypes of what the experts might say music should be. But even disregarding this, I actually think the singing is very musical. Few would ever say Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix are good singers, but their vocals are perfect for the songs they sing, with a lot of unique character and instant recognizability, and they add to the music they accompany rather than take away from it. The same applies to Efrim's vocals, which add a personal element to the music that raises it even higher and makes me want to listen to it.

This album continues in the same mode as their previous album (Kollaps Tradixionales), in mixing a harder rockingier approach with progressive acoustic and ethereal soundscapes, generally in the service of longer but well-structured vocal-based tunes. The album begins with a hard-guitar driving punky piece that shifts part-way through into a longer statement which sets the musical and political tone for the album. There is a great shorter tune ("Take Away These Early Grave Blues") as well as two innovative and evocative short pieces ("Little Ones Run" and and "Rains Thru the Rooft"). However, the real gems here are the two longest pieces. The 14-minute "Austerity Blues" is a fantastic piece that begins on acoustic with Efrim's unique voice up high, then morphs into a truly original and musical political statement about the idea of (government, economic) austerity. It's counterpart is "What We Loved Was Not Enough", a beautiful dirty lament from the heart. Both of these are among SMZ's best compositions, and are the primary reason I keep wanting to put on this album. They have entered my list of essential music. But in fact the entire set flows very well and there is not a bad tune on the album. Silver Mt Zion is making exciting and original music that deserves to be listened to. They are my favourite still-touring Canadian band. On balance, I give this album 8.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is at the high end of 4 PA stars.

Report this review (#1707152)
Posted Saturday, April 1, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars I find some excerpts from this album to be really exciting. The litany of "What We Loved Was Not Enough", of course, and "Rains Thru the Roof at Thee Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez)", with its saddened mellotron. However, I don't think all the material is as good or inspirational. What bothers me the most is sound quality, a kind of low-fi, dirty and fuzzy. Not that I like crystal-clear recordings, far from it. I enjoy the opacity of old records like "Foxtrot", one of my favorites. But this deliberate dirtiness (I don't know if it's the right term in English) erodes the nuances almost to the point of making them disappear.
Report this review (#1884652)
Posted Monday, February 12, 2018 | Review Permalink

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