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Music / Silver Mt. Zion

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Silver Mt. Zion is the shortened form of the name of a Post-Rock ensemble that has changed its name several times throughout its existence, usually concurrent with lineup changes. The current moniker of the ensemble is Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. The base of the name comes from a line in the song "Movie (Never Made)", one of the few vocal pieces on the band's first album.

The group was formed as a spinoff of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and the two bands still contain many of the same members. Founder Efrim Menuck created the ensemble in an attempt to learn how to score music and become better acquainted with music theory, but ultimately dropped the idea as he preferred to "fumble" rather than to know precisely what he was doing when writing. Regardless, he continued with the project; its first album, released under the name A Silver Mt. Zion, was a response to the death of his dog while he was on tour with Godspeed.


The project has taken on a life of its own, evolving from album to album partially as a result of membership changes. The band's songs have gotten somewhat heavier, to the point where albums like 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons can be considered borderline metal. As Menuck has become more comfortable singing, the largely instrumental nature of the group's early music has also been dropped; all of the songs on the last five albums have had vocals. Menuck's vocals can be a point of contention among fans, as he is not a trained vocalist and does not have a conventionally "pretty" voice; however, his vocals can be highly emotionally expressive, in the tradition of other rock and folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young. While he is often perceived as the frontman of the ensemble, Menuck is uncomfortable with this role, perhaps owing to his anarchist political stances. While Menuck's voice is most prominent on several of their albums, every member of the band sings, and on "This Is Our Punk-Rock" they were joined by an amateur choir of over a dozen members.


To date, the band has released seven full-length albums and three EPs; they have also contributed a unique song to Song of the Silent Land, a multi-artist sampler by their label, Constellation Records. While they don't have any live albums, they (like Godspeed) allow fans to tape and trade their shows, and almost a hundred are available on the Internet Archive.

Current members

  • Efrim Menuck - guitar, piano, voice, sound effects
  • David Payant - drums, percussion, organ, voice
  • Jessica Moss - violin, voice
  • Sophie Trudeau - violin, voice
  • Thierry Amar - double bass, bass guitar, voice

Former members

  • Ian Ilavsky - guitar, organ, harmonium, voice
  • Beckie Foon - cello, voice
  • Eric Craven - drums, percussion
  • Scott Levine Gilmore - drums, percussion, guitar, mandolin, voice

Discography (full-length albums in bold)

  • 2000 - He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms... (LP, released as A Silver Mt. Zion)
  • 2001 - Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward (2x10", released as The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band)
  • 2003 - "This Is Our Punk-Rock," Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, (2xLP, released as The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Choir)
  • 2004 - Pretty Little Lightning Paw (12" EP, released as Thee Silver Mountain Reveries)
  • 2005 - Horses in the Sky (2xLP, released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band)
  • 2008 - 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (2xLP, released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band)
  • 2010 - Kollaps Tradixionales (2x10", released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra)
  • 2012 - The West Will Rise Again (2x7" EP, released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra)
  • 2014 - Hang On to Each Other (12" EP, released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra)
  • 2014 - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (LP, released as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra)

They also released the track "Iron Bridge to Thunder Bay" on the multi-artist collection Song of the Silent Land (2004, released after Pretty Little Lightning Paw), credited simply as Silver Mt. Zion. Additionally, the entire band contributed to two albums by the late singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, North Star Deserter (2007) and At the Cut (2009), on which they essentially served as his backing band on many tracks (alongside Fugazi's Guy Picciotto).

He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Tropes Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms

  • Album Intro Track: The CD version of 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons has twelve of them, apparently to piss off people with MP3 players. They are all brief, all run together, and all consist entirely of discordant feedback. They were left off the vinyl edition.
  • Anarchism: As with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, their lyrics are influenced by anarchist politics. "Movie (Never Made)" advocates a popular uprising against government and capitalism. Several other songs also express heavily anti-authoritarian and leftist sentiments.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Their view on life in interviews and, indeed, their music. While they can get bleak at times, there's also a sense of hope behind it, and at times ("Hang On to Each Other" and "There Is a Light" are good examples) it's expressed without any sort of filter.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward is a very nearly verbatim quote from the Book of Job ("unto" instead of "into" in the original). The same passage also appears in Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.
  • Boléro Effect: While it's not as defining an aspect of their sound as it is for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this still shows up often. It is frequently inverted, too (i.e., although they employ the crescendo commonly in their music, they employ the diminuendo fairly often as well).
  • Broken Record: Several songs repeat lines or entire stanzas several times. Examples include, but are not limited to, "Hang On to Each Other" and every song on "This Is Our Punk-Rock". Another particularly notable example is "God Bless Our Dead Marines", which uses this several times, but probably most memorably at the end, where several different members of the band repeatedly sing the lines, "When the world is sick, can't no one be well? But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong" in varying melodies in a sort of canon that goes on for about four or five minutes. "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom" is probably their most extreme example, though: it doesn't even have lyrics, just variations of "fa-la-la" and "so-fa-la-la", repeated throughout most of the song.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: As with Godspeed, a major theme of their music.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: In two songs, both as a result of Broken Record lines: "Any fucking thing you love" in "Hang On to Each Other" (and its remakes) and "Dance, motherfucker" in "I Built Myself a Metal Bird". Despite this, they don't use profanity that often, and it's generally deployed for maximum possible impact.
  • Concept Album: Several of them. He Has Left Us Alone is an elegy for Menuck's dog. "This Is Our Punk-Rock" is a requiem for open and abandoned spaces in the band's hometown of Montreal and around the world, either due to urban decay or military action.
  • Creator Thumbprint:
    • As with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a rather lax approach to English grammar rules. The expected ending to the band's first album would be "corners of our rooms", but they went with "corner" (no plural). "This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird's Fallen" from the second album is likely to make English teachers everywhere twitch, though it was likely done deliberately; the same goes for "Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues" from 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. Then there's the fact that their third album's official title ends with a comma. Beyond that, they also tend to replace the word "the" with "thee", which is mostly associated in English with the second-person singular informal objective pronoun in Early Modern English.
    • Also, a lot of really long song titles, to the point of almost being an Overly Long Gag. See below for proof.
  • Darker and Edgier: The band's sound has gotten heavier overall since its first album as the guitar has become a more important instrument in their sound.
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: As with Godspeed, they're OK with people trading their shows and often perform new songs live before they've been released on studio albums. The Internet Archive has a ton of shows here.
  • Drone of Dread: Shows up sometimes; "Teddy Roosevelt's Guns" is particularly conspicuous for this. The midsection of "Goodbye Desolate Railyard" also features a particularly nightmarish use of this, before fading into one of the most serene passages in SMZ's entire catalogue.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "God Bless Our Dead Marines" lists several drugs that have killed the narrator's friends.
  • Epic Rocking: An awful lot of their songs, though this isn't as ubiquitous as it is with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. He Has Left Us Alone stands out as it is indexed as two twenty-plus-minute tracks on the LP edition, though each of these is divided into four tracks for the CD. Also notable are "This Is Our Punk-Rock" and 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, on both of which every song tops ten minutes in length. Apart from the He Has Left Us Alone examples, their longest songs are probably "13 Blues for Thirteen Moons" (16:46), "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Grow" (16:27), and "There Is a Light" (15:19).
  • Excited Show Title!: "More Action! Less Tears!", "Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling from the Sky!", "Built Then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)"
  • Fading into the Next Song: Every song on He Has Left Us Alone apart from the LP side gap (although the songs on side two are a lot more discrete than the songs on side one), about half of Born into Trouble, and quite a few others.
  • Grief Song: Every song on He Has Left Us Alone, as explained above in the band biography, particularly the closing track "For Wanda", an elegy to Efrim Menuck's dog. The band also dedicated one of its songs to Capital Steez, a Brooklyn rapper who committed suicide. "God Bless Our Dead Marines" also counts, as one of its stanzas laments the losses of several friends.
  • Humans Are Flawed: This seems to be their view of humanity - humans are capable of both great atrocities and great benevolence, and which you get often depends upon what they've been conditioned to believe and how they've been conditioned to behave. "What We Loved Was Not Enough" says this more or less explicitly.
  • I Have Many Names: At time of writingnote  Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Previously: A Silver Mt. Zion, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir, and Thee Silver Mountain Reveries.
  • Inferred Holocaust: A strange sort of almost invoked example. "Babylon Was Built on Fire / StarsNoStars" is explicitly about an apocalypse in some of its live performances, but the album version leaves out the apocalyptic lyrics. Interestingly, this makes the meaning of the lyrics ambiguous; "StarsNoStars" ("The brightest night I ever saw / Across an empty parking lot / No stars") can be read in the context of the album, which is overall a lament for the destruction of empty spaces by urban development and military action, as an observation about light pollution.
  • Insistent Terminology: They're not too fond of the "Post-Rock" label; if asked, Efrim Menuck is likeliest to identify with Punk Rock, though this may be a more ideological identification than a musical one. (To be fair, some of the more experimental punk bands such as The Clash, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Flux of Pink Indians, and Poison Girls are likely to have been musical as well as ideological influences on SMZ, and Menuck has explicitly referenced Minutemen, Minor Threat, and early Black Flag, but nonetheless, they just don't sound like a punk band. An official press release describes the band as "a punk-rock take on neo-classical and modern music tropes", though, which is somewhat closer to reality.) The band has also named Fairport Convention, Led Zeppelin, Deerhoof ("there's a way they unpeel a melody so it's the oddest sounding thing in the world"), "free jazz, community sight-singing, minimalism, and American folkways" as influences, as well as Jewish and Eastern European folk music, Sacred Harp Singing, classical, and chamber music.
  • Instrumental:
    • Apart from "Movie (Never Made)" and "Blown-Out Joy from Heaven's Mercied Hole", He Has Left Us Alone has no vocals (although there are a few spoken-word samples in other tracks).
    • On Born into Trouble, tracks one, two, six, and seven are instrumental.
    • "Iron Bridge to Thunder Bay" is instrumental. After this, all of the band's songs have at least some lyrics.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • The Hang On to Each Other EP qualifies, being a lot less ponderous in mood than the band's usual fare. It's arguably this to the original version of the song as well - the original wasn't gloomy, but it had a sombre aspect that is completely absent in the EP versions.
    • The band itself may qualify in comparison to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Silver Mt. Zion is still pretty heavy (especially on the later albums), but there aren't as many Nightmare Fuel moments as there are in Godspeed's music.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Some of their songs don't have much in the way of lyrics. A particularly noteworthy example is "More Action! Less Tears!", which is instrumental after the spoken-word intro. "I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds" is another good example, though it's arguably the second half of "I Built Myself a Metal Bird", which is not an example of this trope. Taken to its extreme with "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom", which doesn't actually have any lyrics, despite the prominent place of the choir.
  • List Song/Long List: "God Bless Our Dead Marines" lists a large number of factors to which the song's narrator has lost friends.
  • Long Title: Up to half of their songs and albums, as well as some incarnations of the band name itself. He Has Left Us Alone... seems to be a deliberately invoked example, as the band didn't feel the most commonly used shortening (which was also the original title) was expressive enough. Note that the correct title of the album is He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms...; sometimes Corner is changed to Corners, which would seem to be more grammatically correct, but the band has a long, proud history of subverting expected English grammar rules in its titles. Other examples include:
    • "Lonely as the Sound of Lying on the Ground of an Airplane Going Down"
      • "Broken Chords Can Sing a Little"
      • "Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs"
      • "Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning"
    • "The World Is SickSICK; (So Kiss Me Quick)"
      • "13 Angels Standing Guard 'Round the Side of Your Bed"
      • "Long March Rocket or Doomed Airliner"
      • "Blown-out Joy from Heaven's Mercied Hole"
    • Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward
      • "Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling From the Sky!"
      • "This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird's Fallen"
      • "Take These Hands and Throw Them in the River"
      • "Tho You Are Gone I Still Often Walk W/You"
      • "C'monCOMEON (Loose An Endless Longing)"
    • "This Is Our Punk-Rock," Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing,
      • "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom"
    • "There's a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow"
    • "Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)"
    • "Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues"note 
    • "I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds"
    • "Kollapz Tradixional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag)"
    • Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
      • "Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)"
      • "Rains Thru the Roof at Thee Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez)"
  • Loudness War: The last few releases (starting with 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons) fall into it a bit, though they're not the worst examples out there. "Take These Hands and Throw Them in the River" and "C'monCOMEON (Loose an Endless Longing)" were also given a heavily distorted sound for stylistic reasons; the rest of Born into Trouble is mostly unaffected.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Some of their song lyrics contrast heavily with the songs they appear in. This can be Played With at times, as well; the message of "Hang On to Each Other" fits pretty well with the music, but the Cluster F-Bomb feels out of place, though this was probably done deliberately.
  • Minimalism: While not their primary style, it is an occasional influence on their work. Again, "Teddy Roosevelt's Guns" is a fairly strong example, as much of it is based on a three-note guitar pattern with essentially a single chord behind it.
  • Miniscule Rocking: The opening tracks on the CD of 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (contrasting with the actual songs, which all qualify for Epic Rocking) and "Long March Rocket or Doomed Airliner" on He Has Left Us Alone, which is essentially seven seconds of silence. There's also "Collapse Traditional (For Darling)", which is not even a minute and a half long, though it can also be perceived as a movement of a much longer piece that runs for around fourteen and a half minutes.
  • Musical Pastiche: "Teddy Roosevelt's Guns" is pretty much their Velvet Underground song - it has the squalling strings, the simple one-chord melody, the rapid shifts in mood and pacing, the ominous build to an epic conclusion. It's not an exact carbon copy of the Velvets' style, but nonetheless, one expects the band members had been listening to quite a lot of The Velvet Underground & Nico when they wrote it.
  • New Sound Album: A few of them.
    • "This Is Our Punk-Rock" greatly increased the role of vocals in the band's music, a trend that has continued ever since. The choir on that album hasn't been used on later albums, but later albums still make extensive use of harmony singing.
    • Horses in the Sky was probably more folk-influenced than any of the band's other albums.
    • 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons greatly increased the role of the electric guitar in the band's music to the point where it was a borderline metal album. While the band's albums since then haven't been quite as heavy, the electric guitar has continued in its expanded role since then.
  • Precision F-Strike: In addition to the album title Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything and its sort-of title track, "Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)", they have a few other instances of profanity in their discography. "Hang On to Each Other" actually qualifies as a Cluster F-Bomb due to the repetition of the line "Any fucking thing you love", which is also a case of Lyrical Dissonance since the song is a placid folk ballad. (This line is also used as the title of one of the remakes.)
  • Protest Song: An awful lot of the band's output, though the band claims they don't consciously try to write political songs but simply write about the kinds of issues they discuss with their friends. At the same time, their songs often get extremely specific about topics they're protesting, to the point where people who aren't political junkies might not understand what some of the lines mean; for instance, the line "Dead kids don't get photographed" in "God Bless Our Dead Marines" was protesting a U.S. military policy at the time that prevented the photography of dead soldiers' flag-draped caskets.
  • Rearrange the Song: The Hang On to Each Other EP consists of two remixes (or possibly remakes) of its eponymous track (which appeared in its original form on Horses in the Sky) that sound very different from the original version. The original was a placid folk song that was literally recorded around a campfire; the remakes are house music. The band said they were inspired to remake the song in this manner because the chord progression reminded them of house music, and they also seem to have been completely sincere in doing so.
  • Sampling/Spoken Word in Music: He Has Left Us Alone samples a discussion of the New Testament. Some other songs have spoken-word or samples as well.
  • Scatting: "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom" doesn't actually have any lyrics, just variants of "so-fa-la-la" sung throughout most of the song.
  • Shout-Out: "God Bless Our Dead Marines" has one to Nina Simone. "Rains Thru the Roof at Thee Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez)" is dedicated to a Brooklyn rapper who had committed suicide the previous year.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Black Waters Blowed / Engine Broke Blues" and "Babylon Was Built on Fire / StarsNoStars" both combine two songs into one track. They are performed this way live as well.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Somewhere in the middle. They have songs protesting the brutality humanity is capable of, but they also clearly believe we're capable of being better and learning.
  • Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: They're firmly on the libertarian (e.g., anarchist) end.
  • Something Blues: 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, "Engine Broke Blues", "Austerity Blues", "Take Away These Early Grave Blues".
  • Something Completely Different: The Hang On to Each Other EP, an excursion into house music. It's completely sincere, but they've indicated that it's a one-off, and won't become their usual sound.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Efrim's ragged voice can contrast with the more conventionally beautiful harmony singing used on many tracks.
  • Stylistic Suck: In order to give it a rough, lo-fi sound, Pretty Little Lightning Paw was played back on a boombox and re-recorded from there. The two distorted tracks on Born into Trouble listed under Loudness War also probably qualify.
  • Title Track: Alternately played straight, played with, and completely averted.
    • Pretty Little Lightning Paw, Horses in the Sky, and 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons play it straight.
    • Kollaps Tradixionales plays with it by having three different songs entitled "Kollapz Tradixional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag)", "Collapse Traditional (For Darling)", and "Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos)".
    • Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything has "Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)".
    • The EP Hang On to Each Other doesn't actually include its title track, but it does include two differently-titled remakes of it. "Hang On to Each Other" appears on Horses in the Sky.
    • The other releases avert it completely (though The West Will Rise Again takes its title from "What We Loved Was Not Enough", which takes up the first two sides of the EP).
  • Train Song: "Goodbye Desolate Railyard" is something of a "Goodbye to trains" song. There's some pretty prominent samples of a train in motion before the final movement.
  • Uncommon Time: Shows up pretty often. Examples include:
    • "13 Blues for Thirteen Moons" opens up in mostly 5/4, while the second half of the song is in (4+3+2)/4 (i.e., 9/4).
    • "Iron Bridge to Thunder Bay" is in 7/4.
    • Microphones in the Trees" is in 5/4.
    • "I Built Myself a Metal Bird" and "I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds" are both in 7/4.
    • "What We Loved Was Not Enough" is in (3+2+3+3)/4 (i.e., 11/4) until more than halfway through. And so on.
  • Wanderlust Song: "Goodbye Desolate Railyard" again. The final movement consists of the repeated phrase "Everybody gets a little lost sometimes", first sung by Efrim alone, then by the entire choir.
  • Word Salad Title: A lot of them!
  • A World Half Full: Their view of the world. There is a lot of injustice, but humanity is capable of doing better, and they haven't abandoned hope that someday we will. Several songs, such as "God Bless Our Dead Marines", "What We Loved Was Not Enough", and "Hang On to Each Other" express this sentiment explicitly.


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