If you are in any doubt that Montreal is the musical centre of the world right now then look no further for proof. The second album by Silver Mt Zion, following on from the disturbed, spectral grace of their debut, is a multi-layered, extended hymn to troubled times, a life affirming orchestral wash of beauty that has not, and will not, be bettered this year.
Formed around a core of 3 members of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Silver Mt Zion's music is contructed using fragments of seditionary speech ("good words, strong words, words that could move mountains"), glorious swathes of tremulous violin and cello, echoing electric guitar, the tinkle of far off glockenspiel and submerged trumpet, earth moving bass and the occasional, parched howl of founding member Efrim Menuck.
Where their debut album was sparce and sombre, infused with the legacy of minimalists from Arvo Part to Gorecki, 'Born into Trouble...' retains a minimal sensibility while also revelling in the warmth of it's meticulous, harmonious arrangements. It's moving in a similar way to Barber's 'Adagio For Strings', haunting arpeggios circling endlessly until every last drop of piercing emotion is wrung from every spiralling note.
It's also an album that studiously avoids classification. This is not an avant-garde record, nor is it a rock record, nor is it a neo-classical one. Neither is it a particularly intellectual album. There's nothing dry and cerebral here; instead, the melodies are as heart breakingly open and direct as on any other album penned by the Godspeed! collective.
Those of you familiar with the growing body of music on the Constellation label will recognise the sense of tragedy, the fractured politics, in these songs, but 'Born into Trouble...' also brings with it a sense of renewed optomism, of reinvigorated community. (The beautiful packaging that accompanies the CD comes with a printed essay detailing how "resistance grew from tender places.") It's a bittersweet clamour for humanity best expressed by Efrim in the string-saturated closing lament 'The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes' : "There's beauty in this land, but I don't always feel it."
Elsewhere, the slow violence associated with Godspeed! emerges in 'C'MonComeOn(Loose An Endless Longing)', massed buzz-saw guitars racing towards a speaker slashing climax of distorted cymbals, clanging percussion and cathartic noise. 'Could've Moved Mountains' is a deeply moving song of gradual build, swirling with layered strings and reverberating double bass, built around the refrain "these hands could've moved mountains."
It's very rare that an album succeeds in making every other record in your collection seem, for a time at least, utterly redundant. This is one of those albums, and it's intensity, eloquence and emotional depth will remain with me for years to come.
10Tom Eyers's Score