I spend a lot of time in this blog trying to describe music. This means that I go a little bit over the top about “genres”. Two days ago I went on and on about “country” music. Today my album of choice is classified as “post-rock”. Apparently the term “post-rock” was first used to describe an album called “Hex” by Bark Psychosis which I had never heard of until last year when it was re issued – I’d never heard of it but I got it and it’s great. The term “post-rock” was first used in a review of this album by Simon Reynolds and he intended the term to mean a style of music whereby rock instruments were used to create music that wasn’t rock. For example, using guitars to create an atmosphere rather than to play chords and riffs.
It was Percy who first introduced me to lots and lots of albums in the “post-rock” genre. He sent me lots of albums by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Do Make Say Think and many others. Sometimes this music is the perfect antidote to paracetamol, in that it gives me a headache within a few minutes but other times, the beauty is overwhelming. Peter and Sam and I went to see A Silver Mt. Zion in Kemptown nearly twenty years ago and they were sensational. I couldn’t see any of the band because there were a lot of 6’6″ people standing in front of me; normally this spoils the concert for me but not in this case. They were magnificent.
The group has released seven albums using different names, for example “The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band”, “Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra” and “Thee Silver Mountain Reveries”. As well as confusing us poor public with constant name changes, the titles of the songs are not fixed. On vinyl, this album consists of two songs, “Lonely as the Sound of Lying on the Ground of an Airplane Going Down” and “The World Is SickSICK; (So Kiss Me Quick)!” but on CD, each side has been broken into four songs including one song on side two, “Long March Rocket Or Doomed Airliner” which is five seconds long. This wilful obtuseness may be irritating to some and I understand that but I have to say that I’ve never considered the names of the songs; I’ve just listened to the sounds which are unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. There’s lots of piano and violin which is often very restful but this is often interrupted with discordant notes or sampled radio noise.
“Broken Chords Can Sing A Little” starts with a very quiet piano playing four chords over and over. As the intensity grows, a melody forms and the chords are played more vehemently. As a single low note is played on the piano, spoken voices are introduced, sounding distorted as if from a radio. A violin plays elongated notes as the voices threaten to overwhelm the music. It’s seriously weird; it’s intense; it’s overwhelming at times and it’s also strangely beautiful. In the end, the instrumentation stops and the distorted voices take over until it all ends after nearly nine minutes.
“Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs” is a continuation of the last song. By now, the voices are spouting forth fundamental Christianity but as they fade out, drums and violins take over, playing an eight note melody over and over. There’s a pause as the violins hold just one note before the drums crash back in and the violins play a modified melody which gets louder as the intensity increases again. This is what I loved about seeing them live. The use of changing dynamics as quietness builds to loudness and back again makes for an incredibly exciting sound.
“Stumble Then Rise On Some Awkward Morning” starts slowly with a modified version of the melody on the last song. Remember that on the vinyl, this is all one track. A counter melody played on the piano gradually appears and the two melodies fight for supremacy. It’s unutterably beautiful in a rather atonal sort of way. Towards the end of the song, the tempo increases until the descending piano melody interchanges with the ascending violin melody and the track ends with improvisation on both instruments before fading to a sensational ending.
“Movie (Never Made)” features some singing. It’s a lovely song with heavy echo used on the piano. I think I prefer the instrumentals. In an interview a few years ago, Efrim Menuck, one of the leading members of the band said that they spent a lot of time listening to old soul records by, for example, Arthur Conley, Bobby Bland and Sam & Dave. If you say so, Efrim. It sounds like the polar opposite of that to me.
“13 Angels Standing Guard ’round the Side of Your Bed” starts with an instrument which I can’t identify. It sounds like the groaning I make the morning after too much Harvey’s. A violin appears over this sound and makes a stunningly beautiful noise. So on one hand, there is the moaning and groaning and over that there is an extended violin improvisation. I guess this is “post-rock”. I love it.
“Blown-Out Joy from Heaven’s Mercied Hole” is nearly ten minutes long and features more piano and violin but both instruments introduce discordant notes, reminding me of John Cale’s arrangements on Nico’s “The Marble Index”
“For Wanda” starts with someone laughing in the other room before a piano plays a few random chords. Some percussion noises are heard, but from a long way away as if we are in a very large empty museum space with one strange installation at the other end of the room with mechanical whirring and flashing lights. The violin brings some structure which the piano picks up on. Finally, as an afterthought a keyboard plays quietly to bring you back to the real world where Sam & Dave really do exist.
A strange album. It’s post-rock so it must be good.