If you pay a visit to tra-la-la-band.com, the now defunct homepage of Silver Mt Zion, you can – in addition to seeing tons of amusing and thought-provoking images – read a list of FAQ’s that are deliberately left unanswered. For those who’ve followed Thee Silver Mt Zion and/or Efrim Menuck’s other and arguably more famous band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, these FAQ’s are at once hilarious, while, as so often with either band, they raise more questions than leave answers.
To rewind a bit, Godspeed was arguably one of the most important bands that came out at the turn of the millennium. They represented a reality check at a time when U.S and its (few) European allies went to war under the command of an increasingly unpopular president, and much of the U.S along with the rest of the free world was clouded in a senseless paranoia. Not bad for a band that haven’t sung a single lyric in their entire existence. But their habit of using expressive vocal samples and thought-provoking album covers delivered the message. The liner notes to 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O described “09-15-00” as “Ariel Sharon surrounded by 1.000 Israeli soldiers marching on al-Haram Ash-Sharif and provoking another Intifada (the second Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation)”. And then there was that infamous incident in 2003 when the group were mistaken for terrorists after being stopped at a local gas station in Oklahoma. They were detained by the FBI due to their “suspicious” van and photographs of oil rigs. They were later released as a result of their origins; “it’s a good thing we’re nice white kids from Canada”.
Earlier on, the band was describes as “anarchists”, a label none of the members would attest. Irrefutably, they were a confrontational band, but there music was never meant to be overthought. Despite all their call-for-action oratory, their political rhetoric has remained deliberately vague and imprecise. There is a clear hint of a greater something; means of actions that need to be taken, but there are certain limitations to how much you can say with instrumental music and live-show banners. Then again, the most important aspect of their manifesto was not to give any clear answers, as it was to raise the questions we ought to be asking ourselves.
In 2002, when Godspeed went on their decade long hiatus, Menuck had already started Silver Mt. Zion – allegedly as a way of paying tribute to his deceased dog Wanda. While still being an instrumental band, their early records could best be describes as pleasant rather than poignant. It sounded more like movie scores than actual albums, and it took until 2003’s This Is Our Punk-Rock, Three Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, that they, so to speak, found their voice. Despite its title, it was far from any sort of punk-rock, but for the first time they had something to put in words. Not anything actively political, but rather a sort of campfire chants about environmental issues. On 2005’s Horses in The Sky they raised the stakes with a considerably more explicitly stated message; “Kanada, Oh Kanada, I ain’t never been your son” and brilliant satire; “There’s fresh meat in the club tonight, God bless our dead marines”. But it would take the band five more years before they recorded an actual guitar riff. “I Build Myself A Metal Bird,” from 2010’s Kollaps Tradixionales was the first time they sounded angry. That anger has been carried and multiply enhanced on their awkwardly but pertinently titled seventh album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything. On where their metamorphosis from an instrumental folk ensemble into a kick-in-the-groin type of commanding rock band took its final arresting leaps. Maybe Menuch found some new sense of musical purification after successfully reconsolidating Godspeed. Perhaps he found new reasons to keep fighting. Either way, the orbiting satellite project of Silver Mt. Zion (now a quintet) makes more sense now than its mothership.
Fuck Off Get Free starts with Menuck’s four years old son Ezra saying “We live on the island called Montreal. And we make a lot of noise because we love each other”. A sentiment that rings thru-out the albums six tracks of various lengths. If there is one thing Menuck’s made clear is that a hope for change is derived by noise, not silence. And the noise that he and the rest of the quintet make on Fuck Off Get Free rings louder than ever. The fourteen minutes post-rock epic of “Austerity Blues” brilliantly accounts Menuck’s increasing discontent with his native, financially curbed Canada. It also works as the pumping heart of the record; a merciless catharsis by a band in collective synch; “Lord let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down” – hoping that sanity will prevail down the line, at a time when its narrator won’t be around to eat the fruits of his fight. That last sentiment is further evolved on “What We Loved Was Not Enough”, on where the entire world is consumed and regrets are all there is left; “All our cities gonna burn / All our bridges gonna crack / All our pennies gonna rot / There’ll be mud across our tracks”. And ultimately ending with the bleakest of realizations; sooner or later “all our children gonna die”. But just as all hints of hope seems buried in the deepest of graves, the smallest of sentiments arise; “kiss it quick and it’ll rise again…the lights are yours, if you’d ask for more than poverty or war”.
As popular music is increasingly streamlined and withdrawn from reality, we need confrontational bands pursuing a cause. In the words of the Nobel Peace Price winner Elie Wiesel; “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”. Equally, for Menuck the enemy is indifference. “Rage is a good source of hope,” he said on a Vish Khanna podcast. SMZ may still be reluctant to give any answers, but on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything the stakes are higher than at any previous point. Menuck is a father now. And consequently his lyrics convey a looming importance to preserve a sense of morality – and to give hope – in a world that’s gone increasingly indifferent. During their decade-and-a-half span, SMZ has fed of injustice, but politically they’ve remain just as elusive as Godspeed. Yet, in a world where political rock music is just as scarce as sustainable solutions to global warming, there’s no turning away from its gripping sentiments; if not for any answers, then for their ability to shake things up. The lyrics are inexplicable and scattershot – they won’t give any sense of solution– but they give a sense of connection; a flipside to popular cultures disconnection from reality. On album closer, “Rains Thru The Roof At A Grande Ballroom”, they address this loss of radicalism in pop culture head-on; “Music is a way of life, it’s more than just something you do on the weekend … it’s something you devote your life to.” It took the band a long time to connect the dots – both lyrically and musically – but Fuck Off portrays a sense of urgency. The struggle is now; fuck off or get free, we’re here to pour light on everything.