A Silver Mount Zion is one of the many side projects from members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band was created in 1999 by Godspeeder Efrim, along with other members Sophie and Thierry. They then gained three more members, changed their name to Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, and added a seventh person for their fifth album (this one), which was released in 2005.
Efrim's voice is the main standout of this record. The closest person I could compare it to would be Tim DeLaughter's of Polyphonic Spree fame. It has a fragile, earthy tone to it, and its somewhat of a love-hate type of voice, and if you end up hating it, then you are out of luck on the whole album. In certain songs, it is very passionate and heartfelt when occopanied by other instruments or his backup singers, but when the focus is on him, they seem to come out as whiny, somewhat out of tune and possibly annoying. The music that accompanies this is, like Born into Trouble..., very similar to something you would hear on a Godspeed album, to be more specific, Yanqui U. X. O.
Horses in the Sky begins with God Bless Our Dead Marines. It starts out with Efrim singing "Put angels in the electric chair, the electric chair...." and eventually builds into an Indian sounding song (Indian as in from India) with the bouncing violins and various stringed instruments and an odd sounding guitar, as well as percussion. The style of the instruments individually sounds very simple, but put all together sounds complex and paints a pretty picture into your mind. The lyrics and music go on through different parts, all of them good, but towards the end is the highlight of this song. Everything fades out and Efrim's frail voice is singing "when the world is sick, can no one be well? but i dreamt we was all beautiful and strong." It is soon echoed by everyone else in the band, and it eventually fades out, and makes a very nice ending to the first track.
Mountains Made of Steam begins with a guitar riff that could easily be from Godspeed's Yanqui U. X. O. Efrims voice comes in underneath the guitar. This continues for awhile, and then the other vocalists come in and the music starts to cheschendo, followed by a violin and guitar part, again reminiscient of Yanqui. It is very beautiful, and the highlight from this track, very mournful and passionate and very beautiful. It is left with just a chello bouncing. Efrim then comes in softly, whispering "the angles in your palm sing gentle worried songs and the sweetness of our dreams like mountains made of steam" a pretty, heartfelt violin comes in under this and continues to be the focus for the remainder of the song.
Horses in the Sky, Teddy Roosevelts Guns, and Hang on to Each Other are all very similar, with each song having a acoustic guitar riff and Efrim's vocals going throughout. It all gets somewhat boring after a few minutes, and the lyrics drag on for awhile. Teddy Roosevelt has a promising section with a xylophone and a violin creating a signature instrumental part, with drums following soon after, but instead of expanding on the wonderful vibe they created, they add in Efrim's voice once again, which is meh. These three songs turn out to be like an episode of The Efrim Show, when i would rather see the rest of the Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band. They just seem to be fillers that focus mainly on Efrim's not so perfect voice and his lyrics about war and fighting, instead of the beautiful strings and perussion that I love.
Ring Them Bells (Freedom has Come) enters with a violin with other stringed occopaniment. Efrims voice and a xylophone comes in, and a guitar soon after. It is all mellow, and the focus isnt necissarily on the voice, but the music, which I love. The guitar and crew takes over for a moment, and Efrim's voice slips back in, as well as a horn. The guitar then takes on this wonderful echoey line, with the other instruments behind it and everything picks up, creating an epiphinal moment as everything builds and releases and it sounds perfect. It then descends into a new line, with the violin, bass, and guitar. Efrim comes back in, again the focus not directly on him. The violins pick things up and run with them, adding a guitar and percussion as they go. The violins are then left alone and fade out. A guitar then comes back, playing a similar riff heard in a previous song. A piano joins this, and it is very innocent and delicate, as various static-y noises are heard in the background, adding some depth. Vocals come back in, and they fit fine " imagine the view from a helicopter gunship. You hit the switch and cut then men in two, imagine the view." The lyrics go on and the static seems to slowly increase. Just the instruments and the static are left. It all slowly dissoves and fades, eventually turning into pure feedback and static, with screechy noises. Bells are quietly heard underneath as the static gets louder and louder, and then stops.
This album is pretty much split with three very good tracks, and three not so good tracks. The good, however far outweigh the bad, and if you love Efrims voice, then the whole album would be good for you. The instrumentation in the good songs is wonderful and beautiful as always, and although Horses in the Sky isnt the best for A Silver Mount Zion, it can be appreciated as a good album.