Efrim Menuck seems hell bent on alienating all but his hardcore, dyed in the wool, `drank the Kool Aid’ fans. I say this for a number of reasons. The first clue is the constant renaming of his band. Not that I’m a big fan of marketing, per se, but the one thing that they’ll tell you is that changing your name will cause nothing but confusion. From one release to the next, SMZ (just to make it easy) has had the articles `a’ and `thee,’ various band suffixes and, in one instance, the absence of Zion and the addition of `Reveries.’ The second clue comes with the 12 tracks that begin 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. Each only a few seconds long, the first dozen `songs’ are actually just one long droning intro, cut up into pieces that will drive iPod shufflers into madness. (TV on the Radio did the same thing at the end of their most recent album; though there seemed to be no deleterious effect, save for a few grumbles here and there). The last clue is in the lyrics penned by Menuck, and in turn how he delivers them.
Don’t get me wrong. I get the whole `avoision’ of the mainstream. (You say `evasion,’ I say `avoision’). It seemed that as soon as Godspeed songs began popping up in film soundtracks causing a resurgence in popularity, as well as the spiking appreciation for fellow post-rockers such as Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and Sigur Rós, Silver Mt. Zion seemed to further distance themselves from the entire scene. Yes, the music they create is still glorious post-rock noise, but there are added elements of prog, metal, and psychedelia that may leave fans either scratching their heads in wonderment or grinning gleefully ear to ear in delight. “1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound,” is the first epic track of the actual four total that make up the album proper, and it is so rooted in Zeppelin-esque blues riffs that you could almost forget SMZ’S `Imperial’ chamber music meets rock roots or be reminded of them entirely. You can see it’s confusing. On its own, the music of the song stands up well, but the lyrics are often heavy handed and the delivery strained. Think of Johnny Rotten singing Rollins lyrics over “Kashmir” and you’re almost there. This combination is less like a wonderful `chocolate and peanut butter’ and more like `chocolate and bratwurst.’ When Menuck sings “Your band is bland / your band is bland ambition,” you can’t help but wonder how highly he thinks of himself and his own `arty’ version of his inverse ambition.
The title track is all psych rock accented screaming. At only two minutes in, the song becomes nearly unbearable, and then, when you see the digital display reading of 14 entire minutes remaining, you simply want to die. In addition, the lyrics are even more bludgeoning propaganda. Now, I’ve been known to be opinionated. I’ll argue with most regarding my left-leaning politics, but I never initiate the argument. My views are always a knee-jerk reaction to someone else’s aired dirty laundry. Menuck’s attempts at poetic protest are less Rage Against the Machine and more angry elitist teenager’s blog. To be fair, the last two tracks fare better than the first two (or #’s 13 & 14, whatever). The songs are more measured, with Menuck’s vocals being slightly less abrasive. However, he sounds a bit more like Damon Albarn in primal scream therapy than someone who would balance better with the gorgeously orchestrated music that SMZ collectively creates.
Like most, I’ve become a fan of most post-rock over the years. Godspeed You! Black Emperor quickly became one of my favorites. Even some of the records from this variously dubbed offshoot have found their way into regular rotation. But, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons seems to walk too far on the see-saw in the direction of pretentiousness than ever before. Efrim Menuck seems to be challenging his listeners to find something in this album they like. There were times that closing track “Blindblindblind” had me reveling in its beauty, but then those blasted lyrics and that blasted voice left me cold. Menuck screams at the end “Some hearts are true,” in reference to himself and the `punks’ he extols in the song, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is all self-aggrandizing bullshit. True hearts have never needed an obnoxious billboard, much less a musical one.
Led Zeppelin- Physical Graffiti
The Sex Pistols- Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Henry Rollins- Weight