Some album and song titles wind up and strike me so much that it really doesn't matter who the group is or what the music sounds like that I'll take a chance on it. With a title like He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Room, I imagined that it was either going to be highly pretentious or stunningly beautiful. Comprised of members of the already-heralded Godspeed You Black Emperor, I'm happy to say that A Silver Mt. Zion falls into the latter category. This is slow, delicately sad music that has the ability to make you weep.
For those wondering if A Silver Mt. Zion is anything like Godspeed You Black Emperor or not, the answer is both yes and no. Whereas GYBE! has up to 9 members playing different instruments, ASMZ relies on the work of only three people (and a 4th on a couple tracks) to create sort of a stripped-down, nearly drum-less version of GYBE. Fortunately, though, it's nearly as moving, and with 2 long pieces (split up into 4 movements each) that run a total of about 46 minutes, the group is just as engaging.
The release starts out with the movement "Lonely as the sound of lying on the ground of an airplane going down," and the first part of it is a 9-minute track entitled "Broken chords can sing a little." The track starts out in super minimal mode, with only a stark piano and an underlying deep drone before radio noise and a sample of an evangelist talking about judgement day fades in along with some subtle violin. During the second part of the movement "Sit in the middle of three galloping dogs," the only drums on the album make their way into the mix and it adds an urgency to the album that no other tracks have. Like the best songs by GYBE, the track is really just a beautiful crescendo that has been harnessed and is unleashed at just the right moments. "Stumble then rise on some awkward morning" moves along like a funeral march before the first movement closes out with "Movie (never made)." On this track, Effrim sings in a wounded voice over a trio of contrabasse, violin and piano, and it works quite well. After bleak lyrics from the beginning, there's a soft moment where he sings the line "cause a people united is a wonderful thing" that could part the clouds on any overcast day for just a moment.
The second movement is entitled "The world is sickSICK;(So kiss me quick)" and again shows the deft wordage use by the group to convey a theme. The haunting "13 angels standing guard 'round the side of your bed" is a somewhat eerie piece that drifts along with the sound of a spirit chorus and lovely violins before the long "Blown-out joy from heaven's mercied hole" on which both Sophie and Effrim share vocal duties over another ghostly track. The album ends with the sad, but strangely uplifting "For Wanda," in which the sound of fireworks can be heard through a simple arrangement of piano and strings. The songs title refers to the dog of Effrim's which died of cancer, and for which the album is dedicated to.
Besides the second track, the album never reaches the feverish magnitude of GYBE, but it works on an entirely different level. Because it's more stripped-down, it seems more personally engaging on the first listen, yet there are still things to be found in subsequent plays. One of those albums that seeps into you and gives you goosebumps.