A Silver Mt. Zion - Biography
A Silver Mt. Zion formed as an instrumental post-rock collective from Montreal, Quebec in 1999, founded by members of the chamber rock outfit, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Over the years the band’s name has been changed to Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Thee Silver Mountain Reveries, quirkily and whimsically, depending on the time and release. The roster is also continuously changing, with the one constant being singer/guitarist/pianist, Efrim Menuck, from GYBE As goes the whims of the group, more vocal tracks have been used in later releases, and pigeonholing the band as simply “post-rock” doesn’t wholly describe it.
A Silver Mt. Zion began when fountainhead Efrim Menuck, literally and abstractly inspired by punk rock, decided he wanted to experiment with sound unbefitting to what he was doing with GYBE He also wanted to learn to score music, and to familiarize himself with music theory—both of which he later recoiled from for fear of jettisoning the creative process in so doing. With the help of fellow Godspeed members violinist Sophie Trudeau and bassist Thierry Amar, SMZ played its first show in March of 1999 at Musique Fragile. Montreal’s Constellation Records hosted the night, and subsequently released SMZ’s debut album.
He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corners Of Our Rooms (2000 Constellation) was recorded as a trio (with cameos), and it’s an ethereally melancholic release, with string arrangements so hauntingly dispersed as to draw comparisons to Peter Garland. Only two tracks contain vocals, while most—though lushly austere and vulnerable instrumentally—take on topical levity in their titles, a juxtapositional feat of Menuck’s. Such songs as “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning” and “Blown-Out Joy From Heaven’s Mercied Hole,” both of which feature Sophie Trudeau’s beautiful violin playing, are examples.
For the next album, Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward (2001 Constellation), SMZ had increased to a six-piece, adding Beckie Foon (cello), Jessica Moss (violin, vocals) and Ian Ilavsky (organ, harmonium, guitar). With its compressed string arrangements and forefront piano, the album veers close to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s most ghostly material. Effects are used to perpetuate sound, as on “This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Birds Fallen,” and gentle vocals form as fine mist behind guitar distortion on the 11-minute, “Could’ve Moved Mountains.”
This is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing (Constellation) came out in 2003, and it consisted of four tracks—the shortest in length at a hair over 12 minutes. That track is named like a contemporary piece of art, “American Motor Over Smoldered Field.” The album was released under the band name of A Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra because it added to the core sextet with a 22-member choir. Each track is constructed epically, with a build-up to an epiphany, with the choir adding chants over a current of strings and keys. Menuck adds folk-like vocals over the aforementioned track, and it’s tortured and barely tuneful in the way that Roger Waters’ voice jumps from something conversation to fractured in “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.”
The band released an EP in 2004 entitled Pretty Little Lightning Paw, and toured Europe and Canada. In 2005, operating under Thee Silver Mt. Zion Reveries and Tra-La-La Band with Choir, the band released a six-song (Horses In The Sky, Constellation) departure from anything it or GYBE had recorded previously. With each track containing Menuck’s vocals and backing vocals—singing repetitively “hang on to each other and any fucking thing you love,” on the dirgy “Hang Onto Each Other”—this album marks the clearest departure of the earlier works. Horses In The Sky is considered by many to be SMZ’s most realized album, and one that transcended the post-rock label..
Two years later, after touring and trying out new material, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (2008 Constellation) came out, blazing yet newer paths still and featuring the most bombastic output of SMZ’s career. The song “1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound” fumes out of a minute of strange sounds and deceptively soft vocals, becoming a full-fledged rock number. “Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues” features the breaking vocals of Menuck over Beckie Foon’s gut-twisting cello.
Kollaps Tradixionales (2010 Constellation) is the sixth full-length album for the progressive Canadian band, featuring a new drummer (David Payant). As with previous albums, this one is bookended by two elongated tracks, the opening 15-minute “There is a Light” and the closing 14-minute song, “Piphany Rambler.”