Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band - Horses In The Sky

Album cover

  1. God Bless Our Dead Marines (11:44)
  2. Mountains Made Of Steam (9:28)
  3. Horses In The Sky (6:39)
  4. Teddy Roosevelt's Guns (9:45)
  5. Hang On To Each Other (6:38)
  6. Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come And Gone) (13:58)

Constellation, 2005

The Silver Mt. Zion sound seems to have travelled a long way from post-rock romantic beauty for their fourth full album. "Horses in the Sky" is an uncompromising listen, whose style, if it can be described at all, is a surreal, twisted sort of folk music. And though they never took a cheery view of the world, their lyrics here are gloomier than ever, now with a loose theme of the tragedy of war and those commanded to fight it. While they occasionally wallow in bare acoustic misery, some inspired and strange music manages to lift our spirits from the dirt and build some semblance of hope.

Usually they're deliberately spiky, avoiding any hint of sweet harmony. Their social and political polemics are accompanied by dour, often punk-spirited playing on guitars and strings. Like its predecessor, the tracks are all songs, with Efrim Menuck often fronting a full-band chorus. "God Bless Our Dead Marines" opens strikingly with Efrim singing a mocking refrain "they put angels in the electric chair", deliberately clashing with jaunty violins and gruffly plucked cellos. "Mountains Made Of Steam" builds a trudging string riff up to a jarring guitar solo, one of few moments where it comes close to "rock". Another of these occasions being "Teddy Roosevelt's Guns", which is pure punk, Efrim railing against the state of his native country to grinding full band outbursts.

Its warmest moments are when they desperately try to assert the loving side of humanity amidst all the ugliness. On the opening track, a choir sings "I dreamt we were still beautiful and strong", building some haphazardly beautiful and rousing harmonies. "Hang On To Each Other", urges us to hold on to "any fucking thing you love", like "pigeons in the rain", over a dirty organ grind. Though the clear stand-out piece is the finale "Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come And Gone)", whose warm symphonic rock dynamics seem to serve to put the message across more strongly, rather than lift the spirits. Its sublime closing section sets some hideous imagery of modern warfare, "imagine the view / from a helicopter gunship..." to a delicate tune, over a single-fingered piano foil. It's as powerful an anti-war creation as anything from Roger Waters' "The Final Cut".

July 29, 2008

8 out of 10

See blog entry: A Silver Mt. Zion (and Tra-la-la Kitchen Sink) (29 Jul, 2008)

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written and maintained by Christopher Jackson