On what is arguably their most direct, accessible rock record, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra are no less compromising in their stirring sound or their confrontational content. A general survey of their catalogue reveals songs infused with a rightful cynicism but also an almost militant allegiance to hope, as if the band is willing itself to fight from being snowed under by life's unending avalanche of horseshit.
This time around, though, a central obsession over premature death and economic hardship, particularly among musicians, pervades these songs. Lead vocalist Efrim Menuck and violinist Jessica Moss have a young son together, and the experience has made his expression that much more sensitive when it comes to the fragility of life. In particular, late figures like Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5 (and husband to Patti Smith) are represented by interview clips in which they discuss their artistic practice and how it reflects their truncated lives.
They are personal heroes for Menuck, and their demise spooks him; he is ostensibly leading his own family down their same path, as a working musician with a penchant for making niche art with little commercial appeal. It's telling that the only other guest vocalist here is his son, who opens the title track by stating, "we make a lot of noise because we love each other," while a later song counterpoints, "What We Loved Was Not Enough."
So the tension throughout is complex. A song like "Rains Thru the Roof At Thee Grande Ballroom (for Capital Steez)" laments a dilapidated, abandoned Detroit venue the MC5 used to play and also a 21 year-old New York rapper who committed suicide on Christmas Eve in 2012. "Little Ones Run" is plainly a lullaby, something for any doting parent to sing their child to sleep with and a true anomaly for SMZ, who are otherwise raucous and storming.
Menuck's guitar tone is a mind-bending tidal wave of rubbery frequencies. It's bolstered by a string section (Moss and Sophie Trudeau) that complements and contradicts it for one of the most unique, intense sounds in contemporary punk. The rhythm section — bassist Thierry Amar and drummer David Payant — is deceptively loose, warring and stomping its way through invigorating patterns and progressions that interlock rather remarkably given how frenetically they dig in.
The vocal flourishes here make the arrangements that much more dynamic; Menuck's anguished cries remain a distinctive SMZ instrument, but with everyone in the band singing — most notably Moss and Trudeau — some songs have these theatrical production flourishes in which lines like "Hold me under/bright water/never let us end" are exchanged for greater emphasis and power.
The way the world turns doesn't make any more sense for SMZ here and they continue to fight its barrage of noise with a bloody onslaught of common sense. The difference here is Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is the most personal outcry of righteous indignation they've mustered. The result is something for a broader audience of like-minded people constantly muttering 'What the fuck?' at the world at large to connect with. ()