THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (2008)

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons Although it didn’t have a title at the time, I had a feeling that 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons was going to be a strong contender for album of the year ever since I saw the band perform two of the tracks off the album at their first-ever performance in Chicago (at the Empty Bottle) waaaaay back in the summer of 2006. Fast-forward about two years, and it seems that I was right; this name-changing collective from our Neighbor to the North continues to both refine their identity and separate themselves from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, their twin for whom they have been inexorably tied to since their inception. True, both bands are thematically similar, but with Godspeed, looming portents of tragedy inhabit every corner of their music; indeed, what makes much of Godspeed’s music so enthralling is how effortlessly the band can paint a portrait of a grand, eloquent and totally inescapable cataclysm that’s just a blink away.

The tragedies with A Silver Mt. Zion are smaller – they’re more human when contrasted with the sort of Dies Irae fare that Godspeed work with. But what really separates A Silver Mt. Zion is their use of vocals as a part of this process. Musically, I don’t think the distinction needs to be made; it’s self-explanatory. But thematically, the use of voice provides an anchor to all of this; there’s a personal side to whatever great ruin is lurking around us now, and it adds another level to the music, whether it’s through protest or elegy.

On 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, the band seem to favor using both. Although their third album was entitled “This Is Our Punk Rock”, 13 Blues is by far the rawest, angriest album the band have made. It’s also the one that distances them the most from Godspeed. The first twelve tracks consist solely of a high-pitched drone, a drone that’s not making music, not setting the scene, and not pulling a Korn by giving us a minute of silence to ponder until something else happens. These tracks exist simply to give space: space between A Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed, and a space between A Silver Mt. Zion and all their other work. As Alan Watts wrote in What is Zen?, “space isn’t nothing – it’s the other pole of something.” Likewise, 13 Blues isn’t just another A Silver Mt. Zion album, it’s their “rock” album, the album that many bands who exist on the threshold of many genres will make at some point. And it starts with 1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound.

That song was the encore for that Chicago show I saw nearly two years ago. I was startled by how immediate it was, and the album version is more startling. The title of the song is a mantra that haunts the entire composition. It seems to be always present, even when we can’t hear it. It is this mantra that the song begins and ends with. What unfolds in the middle an entrancing six-minute punk freak-out that sees the band scaling some terrifying heights before descending back into the mantra with Efrim Menuck singing over it, sometimes with conviction, and sometimes with a sneer (“silk-screen that, ye twits, across thy internet…”). For any who haven’t heard Menuck’s vocals, they may take some getting used to (on this album, his vocals are quite high in the mix) – he falters regularly, but on this album, the faltering only aids the unpolished chaos surrounding him.

The title track channels much of the violent energy that the band displayed in the previous song; it rages for the first few minutes with Efrim conducting a call and response with the rest of the band. As is the case with much of A Silver Mt. Zion lyrics, I’m not quite sure what the source of their discontent is, but I believe in it. Aided by cries of “There’s ravens in the gun trees”, “I just want some action” and “No heroes on my radio”, the band propel their unrest forward with sonics instead of strings. Overall, 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons is the least “post-rock” song the band have done (aside from the obvious punk influence, it also, as the title suggests, leans heavily into the blues genre), but it’s a pleasure to listen to. What it lacks in dynamic progression it makes up for with unhinged “fuck you.” punk bombast, boiling over at the end with trembling shouts of “We will not sing at your damn parade.”

The punk/blues mix continues with Black Water Blowed/Engine Broke Blues, the first half of which is a storm of twitchy guitar and schizophrenic drums that devolves into a more traditional (albeit still sonically ragged) blues song. In the second half, a dirge slowly emerges from the punk onslaught. The song gets quieter and quieter until its abrupt but pitch-perfect conclusion, a lone cello quickly diminishing into nothing.

13 Blues closes with BlindBlindBlind, the other song that I heard at the Chicago show. It’s a beautiful song, and the best example of a “builder” on this album, the song that unfolds slowly, erupts, and then recedes. Many bands have used this structure, but A Silver Mt. Zion have always been among the best at it. BlindBlindBlind begins with a shaky, lone guitar, and then Efrim’s vocals come in, and then the strings, and backing vocals, and before you know it, the whole band is pounding out the final sections with great, lovely ferocity. Then suddenly, everything drops off just as quickly as it arrived. The song (and the album) conclude with whispered chants of “Some hearts a true”, a phrase that appears many times in the song, sometimes as a lament, sometimes as a promise. And then it’s over.

People often assume that because A Silver Mt. Zion don’t deal in pop pleasantries and make music that routinely stretches past the ten-minute mark that they’re somehow pretentious by default. And perhaps they could be. Such a thing is quite subjective, after all. However, if pretension is an ingredient for making music this damn good, let me take a cue from Swans and state that:

“Pretension In Music Is A Good Idea.”

HD RATING: 10/10

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3 Responses to “THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (2008)”

  1. […] You can play with dynamic range a whole lot (Mogwai). You can make punk rock for a dying world (A Silver Mt. Zion). Or you can self-sabotage your own work and hope that it doesn’t come off as arty posturing […]

  2. […] The most interesting (and fascinating) thing about Kollaps Tradixionales is how the band use these two styles to make music that’s less punk in origin, and more in folk. The opening piece There Is A Light, is surprisingly rustic in its melodies, and though it eventually does give way to the band’s legendary, earthshaking climaxes, it retains a sense of timelessness. The same can be said for the three “Collapse” songs (Kollapz Tradixional, Collapse Traditional and Kollaps Tradicional – whew); the melodies in each churn about amidst themes of dissatisfied nationalism, true love and desirable retribution. This trio of songs is one of the most interesting things the band have ever done. Coming from me, that’s saying a lot. […]

  3. […] short, they’re the last band you’d expect to wind up on Constellation Records alongside A Silver Mt. Zion and Evangelista. And yet, they […]

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