Efrim Manuel Menuck's debut solo record, Plays 'High Gospel' arrived shortly after his band Godspeed You! Black Emperor reformed in 2010. Similarly, Pissing Stars follows last year’s sixth Godspeed record Luciferian Towers. Although Menuck has always kept himself busy during Godspeed’s fallow periods with projects like Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, something about their activity seems to inspire a need to create independently of a collective. And evidently, this flurry of output hasn’t diluted the quality or dulled the potency of the resulting work: Pissing Stars is a fever dream whose central tensions feel all too real.
His first record was pitched as a deeply personal effort dealing with the birth of his son and the loss of friends like Vic Chestnutt. In contrast, Pissing Stars' motivations are external. The record draws from a story he read in the Eighties about the relationship between the Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart and Mohammed Khashoggi, who also happened to be the son of a Saudi arms dealer. On the surface, his interest seems to lie in the idea that the union of two ostensibly regrettable characters rooted in shallow entertainment, wealth and murder resulted in an opposing force: love. Still, Menuck is an artist prone to dive deep, and the romance between the two was brief, so his attention also turns to its dissolution and the curious power of the detritus left in its wake.
Of course, Menuck never has and is never likely to create straightforward, routine, or prosaic music. Consequently, it's down to his expressive soundscapes to drive the narrative. Yet abstraction is never a barrier to intent on Pissing Stars, as the opener “Black Flags Ov Thee Holy Sonne” attests. Through a shroud of agitated effects and the low hum of adult male voices, a child echoes the words “dead stars”: it’s desperate, terrifying and strangely beautiful. It's Menusck's gift that he can take chilling melody lines and unsettled, often ugly, effects and turn out something so beguiling, like a trick of the light.
On Thee Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra’s 2014 record Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything Menuck shattered the decades peddled lie that “love is all you need” professing that it was, in fact, not enough. And 'Kills Vs Lies' deals in similar hard truths via a female spoken vocal that claims cooly and pragmatically, “It’s a big mess that needs cleaning up / people are going to survive, change as necessary.” Furthermore, 'LxOxVx_Shelter in Place' builds layer upon layer of processed vocals and distortion as Menuck delivers the dispiriting line, “I learned when I was very small how to breathe through pain / and I never did breath normal again.”
But ultimately, it's a spirit that remains undiminished and shines through the lightest and brightest track on the record, 'A Lamb in the Land of Payday Loans.' As possibly the most conventionally structured song of the collection, something positively defiant lies within it. Equally, his less-than-desirable protagonists are evoked through the warped, yearning collage of 'Hart Kashoggi', and subsequently lent a sympathetic angle. The manipulations assimilate submerged voices that can’t quite be understood: the mystery of their romance remains just that. But it’s perhaps 'The Beauty of Children and the War Against the Poor' that overwhelms any overriding ominous tones. Menuck piles on dark imagery in the form of “piles of broken bones,” but a sense of sorrowful defeat is upended by its glorious build. He shows little fatigue when it comes to feeling: empathy is never frustrated by the apparent horrors.
Overall Menuck seems to have made a record no less personal than the first. Pissing Stars is mysterious yet relatable, and as always, a distinctly singular experience. He takes the grandeur of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music and distils it down to a heady, potent concentrate that expands the landscape of his post-rock origins. He has described the album as partly about how “stubborn lights endure” and this conflict of origin versus outcome seems to flood the record. Pissing stars indeed, like Phoenix from the ashes.
8Bekki Bemrose 's Score