By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Choir
"This is Our Punk-Rock," Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing
Proprietors of the run-on sentence, the Silver Mt. Zion banish those who are less socially aware to play "Misty" for funereal bedlam dwellers and cultural studies students. But syntax aside, there's an enigma attached to the Silver Mt. Zion that extends beyond the band's Faulknerian wordplay and the naturalist propaganda of their cover art. Hazardously arranged strings and insular chanting give their music an icy desperation, and SMZ evoke that mood in the service of a plethora of causes, among them an opposition to animal testing, nuclear power, and destruction of natural resources. Within the liner notes, they issue a dedication: "For all the four-legged ones and for bruised hearts worldwide and for anyone who ever had bad electricity in their head..." They also urge listeners to think outside of the record sleeve, though there aren't a lot of political signifiers in the songs that would make you tack a protest button on them.
While 200's SMZ release, He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms, played up its decibel death-march drums, the initial strings on This Is Our Punk Rock... linger like a fugue in the fog. Even Thoreau could bang a stick to this punk rock. The Mount Zionists sound like a fanatic cult singing vernacular rounds in their own private Babylon. "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom," an urgent round (actually notes of the musical scale: la-la-so-la), forms the first of four movements, each of which encompasses an album side. Then vocalist Efrim Menuck lets his dim light shine over the second movement, offering muffled ruminations on "Babylon Was Built on Fire/Stars No Stars" that sound like Will Oldham or Magnolia Electric Company. But his broken plea doesn't even penetrate the heavily plucked violin or gratuitous guitar fiddling. In SMZ's lonesome corner of the world, caustic guitar and quiet drones are sounds you take comfort in.
SMZ are decidedly coy about their brand of punk rock, placing an emphasis not on verbal expletives, but on an equally aggressive line of violin or cello. Nevertheless, there's gentility to their music that's generated dramatically: The final movement, "Goodbye Desolate Railyard," is a piano-led waltz, the final strains resonating like an elegy for a dying way of life. SMZ seem like primitives here, howling in rounds, staging a choral bed-in for environmental peace. Sadly, such behavior may leave them alone on the mountaintop.