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Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons

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Artist: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band

Album: 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons

Label: Constellation

Review date: Mar. 18, 2008

The strain of post-rock that Silver Mt. Zion, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and heavier counterparts like Mogwai came to represent over the past 15 years is often cited for its propensity – at least in theory – to accompany or suggest cinematic drama. It seemed that in the first half of the ’00s, such epic-bent bands were significant reference points. And while it can be hard to disentangle personal maturations in taste from larger trend shifts, it seems like this music, once at the forefront of independent music, has exhausted its 15 minutes (or one song, in this case).

Godspeed is on indefinite hiatus, but their brethren in SMZ soldier on. The Montreal collective, known for now as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, continue to probe the disharmony between the beauty of art and the failure of culture on 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. The record opens in typically atypical fashion with 12 untitled clips of feedback, each of which lasts about 6 seconds, before rolling into four 13- to 17-minute long pieces. The first of these, “1,000,000 Died to Make this Sound,” opens with a rather cryptic-sounding chorus singing the song’s title like a mantra. Before long, the eerie tension bursts into a release of electric guitar squall and pounding drums.

But don’t let the track lengths mislead you. This incarnation of SMZ has moved away from the piano and chamber orchestrations of past efforts with a paired-down lineup that focuses on Efrim Menuck’s vocals and riffy guitar rock. Menuck’s voice is a binary switch, alternating between desperate yell and desperate yelp, and it’s front and center on every song, calling into question the annoying prefix that has always defined SMZ’s genre of choice.

Maybe the band decided that the aesthetic of punk-spirited neo-classical is past its prime. Maybe Menuck simply had something to say this time around. Either way, it’s hard to shake the feeling that SMZ are moving away from the complicated musical and thematic tension that was unique to the group, even amongst its post-rock peers. The articulated rants pin down and make static what was once beautifully managed innuendo.

The band still knows how to move gracefully over the duration of long pieces and flash occasional glimpses of that once unrivaled crescendo toward catharsis. But on 13 Blues, it seems like SMZ are more interested in making their own movie than just providing a backdrop.

By Brandon Kreitler

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