Efrim Menuck’s been a lot of things: musician, agitator, activist, ringleader of the seminal Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, his latest under the ever-evolving Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra moniker, Menuck plays an entirely new role: father. “We live on the island called Montreal,” the frontman’s four-year-old son, Ezra, says at the top of the album. “And we make a lot of noise because we love each other.” This voice — plush, bumbling, pure — resonates throughout the record, a tangible symbol of Menuck’s affection for the innocent, those affected, yet uncorrupted, by bourgeois malfeasance and cultural bankruptcy. Menuck’s music has always been about the fight, and now, more than ever, Thee Silver Mt. Zion has something non-ideological for which to fight.
And maybe that’s why, in their new five-piece form, the band sounds more energized than they have in years. Opener “Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)”, with its lurching electric riffs and blaring strings, sounds downright carnival-esque, a haunted carousel with stretch limousines and copulating politicians. Clowns caked in chipping face paint seem to assail from all angles, dispelling the desolate ambient breaks of Menuck’s previous work in favor of dissonant guitar squalls that straddle the line between punk rock and black metal. Sure, the songs still sprawl into the double digits in minutes, but here there’s less emphasis on silence and more on the, well, noise that young Ezra referenced earlier.
If there’s one thing Mt. Zion’s made clear across seven records, it’s that hope resides in noise, not silence. “Rage is a good source of hope,” Menuck himself said on Vish Khanna’s Kreative Kontrol podcast, helping clarify just why the band’s been slowly drifting from the escalating, achingly beautiful instrumentals of their early work, blowing out amps, and electrifying their bass guitar: noise gives way to change, and change gives way to hope. Nowhere in their catalog is that more clear than on standout track “Austerity Blues”, an unrelenting epic that layers its electrocuting riffs with squealing bagpipes that carry through the end like a dead deer being dragged along the highway.
“Lord let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down,” the collective roars at that song’s climax, citing again the immovable metaphor for policy, bureaucracy, and whatever else lurks ominously in Mt. Zion’s work (see: “Could’ve Moved Mountains” and “Mountains Made of Steam”). What’s clear, though, is that “mountain” is no longer the key word here. And though it’s easy to conjure The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy in such a moment (“Please! Won’t somebody think of the children!”) Menuck’s concerns run deeper, more personal.
Though the album begins with a fresh, cherubic voice, the other soundbites highlight punk icons Fred “Sonic” Smith of MC5 and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, both of whom passed in recent years. Each soundbite highlights the working life of a musician, the all-consuming nature of it, carrying with it the implication that the toll it takes is often fatal. Add to that the final track’s title, which references both the now-demolished Grande Ballroom in Detroit and Capital Steez, a talented NYC rapper who took his own life in 2012, and it’s easy to see Menuck’s own mortality weighing on his shoulders. The fight once felt spiritual and intellectual. Now it’s all too real.
Taking that into account, the penultimate “What We Loved Was Not Enough” makes perfect sense. Here, with the album’s most affecting vocal performance, the singer ingrains us with his heartrending realization that “all of our children are gonna die.” And, underneath, the collective croons that “the day has come when we no longer feel.” It’s the greatest of nightmares, all rolled into a few lovely harmonies. But just when things feel as if they couldn’t get any more dire, Menuck cues the percussion, the electric guitar, the seesawing strings, the noise. Remember, that’s where hope lies.
Essential Tracks: “Austerity Blues”, “What We Loved Was Not Enough”, “Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)”