There are certain bands and musicians that, for many of us, are personal repositories, banks of emotions, sentiments, thoughts, and beliefs that we can return to and withdraw from for as long as we have access to a CD or MP3. These bands and their mnemonic prompts reintroduce us to what we may have felt and even been at a particular moment in our lives, acting as stockhouses of affect and attitude that permit us to compartmentalize ourselves in time and space in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the need to be a dutiful employee or a complaisant automaton. For me, one of these bands is Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and while I’ll be the first to admit that GY!BE and Thee Silver Mt. Zion aren’t strictly the same outfit, I’d like to wager that because they share core personnel (Efrim Menuck, Sophie Trudeau, and Thierry Amar) and both act as mediums between a human body and similar states of that body, it’s not entirely outrageous to include both under the same umbrella. After all, within this scheme of things, a band is simply a name or tag we give to certain manifestations of our usually latent psychologies, as well as to safely abstracted and distantiated conceptualizations of ourselves; therefore, because both GY!BE and Silver Mt. Zion provoke similar manifestations and similar conceptualizations, they could both be regarded as separate designations of one and the same thing.
And for me at least, this thing is hope. Hope snatched from the maw of despair and its resistance against anything that would tar it as the fantasy it sometimes is. Silver Mt. Zion have been swimming in this existential kindling since He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Still Sometimes Grace The Corner of Our Rooms…, and what makes both them and GY!BE such masterful evocateurs of its embers is that each knows how to bury positivity deep beneath wells of darkness and despondency, subtly insinuating a glimmer of hope where more heavy-handed operators would have incited the resistance of our sentimentality or schmaltz detectors. For Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, this ephemerality is still in the ascendance, yet in continuity with both Kollaps Tradixionales and Godspeed’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, everything is much more rancorous and confrontational, with the once fragile tinders of their earlier records transmuting into uprisings of heavy distortion and fractious dynamics. This doesn’t make the album any less guardedly optimistic, however, and its rewards lie precisely in dramatizing how disaffected revolt can be life-affirming in its own peculiar way, even if its booming tirades reveal themselves at certain points as willfully masochistic and self-defeating.
Yet for the most part, these tirades are as scathingly wrought as anything on the above records and often show more foresight in their movements and accelerations. The opening trio of “Fuck Off Get Free (For The Island Of Montreal),” “Austerity Blues,” and “Take Away These Early Grave Blues” are powerful blitzkriegs through wildly overdriven — and of course regularly tremolo-picked — guitar and also indignant strings. Their vitriolic cri de coeurs yank themselves from one brash plateau to another, ejecting flails of highly reactive amplification as they methodically whip themselves into a tizzy. For as long as Silver Mt. Zion have been in existence, Menuck has referred to them as a punk band, but it’s only with insurgent barrages like the second half of “Early Grave Blues” that this claim begins to make sense, with the song’s ruthless steamroller approach leaving no doubt that, even if they can’t pull themselves out of the world’s shit by their bootstraps, they’re not simply going to stand on their heads and pretend that it’s ice cream. And ultimately, it’s this energetic obstinacy, this revelling in the mutiny that — if nothing else — affirms a certain autonomy of thought, that makes them not only enthralling, but one of the places I go to when I want to remind myself that I can at least try once in a while.
Yet for all its refractory excitement, there’s something vaguely unsettling about Fuck Off Get Free, something lurking under its turbulent surface that’s only made more disquieting by the fact that some of us like to regard the Montreal outfit as avatars or conduits for our own fragile selves and the frustrated determination that’s largely dormant within them. Inklings of this emerge with the jump the title track makes into doomy stomping just before the 7-minute mark, into a room-filling solemnity that’s dusted with a further morbid shade of black by the repeated line, “Pull me under.” But it’s not until the LP’s arguable highlight, “What We Loved Was Not Enough,” with its highly expressive yet nonetheless explosive melodies, that these insinuations become clearer. In form, the song is a typically heart-on-sleeve eulogy to the apparent crumbling of Western civilization, with scheduled peals of dolorous violin and expansive outbursts of what I’d crudely like to refer to as “bleeding-soul-guitar.” Yet not only its lyrics but also its half-celebratory atmosphere suggest a kind of unhealthy fatalism, an attachment to marginalization and deprivation that seeks primarily to repeat itself indefinitely, fearing perhaps that without its complaints it would lose its voice, its raison d’etre, and finally dissolve into nothing. Because, on the one hand, we have forecasts of disintegration like, “All our cities gonna burn/ All our bridges gonna crack”, and on the other, we have the exalted prediction, “Then the West will rise again/ The West will rise again,” which could easily be taken to mean that the whole process of exploitation and collapse will simply start over. Additionally, the final crescendo that lifts this vision of renaissance is nearly euphoric in its intonation, and whether the conjunction was intentional or not, the result implies that the ladies and gentlemen of Thee Silver Mt. Zion somehow harbor a peculiar love for life on the fringes.
In other words, Silver Mt. Zion (now a quintet) extract so much harried beauty and grace out of the world’s sorry predicament that it seems unbelievable that they wouldn’t be dispossessing themselves of something if all their/our problems were magically solved one day. They feed off injustice, take inspiration from suffering, and from this they forge music that radiates an embattled strength, a strength that would wither and die if it didn’t have something to struggle against. So if Fuck Off Get Free can be accused of a perverse attraction to everything that hurts us, it can be replied that this is only because such a fixation enables — somewhat paradoxically — the hope and the heart we need to live.