In the epic, chamber-rock sweep of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band, you may recognize post-rock progenitors Godspeed! You Black Emperor.
True, vocals figure more prominently than in the largely instrumental Godspeed, with guitarist Efrim Menuck's anguished caterwaul just another instrument in a stormy dynamism that tracks from languid minimalism to thundering rock cacophony. But the resemblance is no coincidence: Originally a side project of Godspeed's Menuck, bassist Theirry Amar and violinist Sophie Trudeau, Silver Mt. Zion has grown in number and scope since its premiere in '99. It's now a septet and the members' creative focus, with three albums released since Godspeed went on hiatus in 2003. The vocal component, once intermittent, has grown more central -- from Menuck to the choir of voices that sometimes accompanies him -- though it's still no more than one element in cinematic soundscapes as grand and operatic as Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West.
Whether Silver Mt. Zion seems quite that majestic depends somewhat on your patience with multi-passage arrangements surpassing the quarter-hour mark, and tolerance for Menuck's willowy wail, which can be an acquired taste. However, there's no disputing the musicianship melding tribal freak-folk intensity, rumbling rock drums and prog's orchestral adventurism into evocative set pieces that maintain momentum despite their knotty nature.
The group's latest, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, features particularly explosive climaxes which rock as convincingly as anything in its catalog. Still, on this four-song, nearly hour-long album, it can take a while getting there. From the haunting chants of "1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound" to the swelling, string-laden denouement of the album-closing "blindblindblind," there's an affecting energy and provocative intelligence at play. There's also undoubtedly a political aspect. The former song rails against "stale air and dead parades / the pretense of their awful gardens / monuments the mess they've made," while the latter notes dispiritedly, "our homemade choirs, like forest fires / hiss 'neath golden rain."
Last year, Silver Mt. Zion joined Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto, Arcade Fire drummer Howard Bilerman and others to back Vic Chesnutt on his stellar album North Star Deserter. The band just concluded a handful of East Coast dates supporting Chesnutt, who recently revealed that they will record again, in December. "Something really clicked," Chesnutt says.
Meanwhile, Silver Mt. Zion continues work on a live album that's been promised for more than a year. But as fans know, anything it does takes time.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Eric Chenaux. 8 p.m. Thu., June 5. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $12. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com
- Multi-faceted: Thee Silver Mt. Zion