“So tangle, oh tangle us up in bright red ribbons!” a precocious voice implores on “Built Then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” from Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s 2001 Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward. “Let’s have a parade! Let’s invite all our friends!”
That’s a lot of enthusiasm. I can’t be the only one who thought it felt weird against all those funereal strings. Subsequent releases clarified things somewhat; Efrim Menuck’s vocals came to the forefront, as did lyrics about community, love, and celebration. Sure, he was burying them in terrifying songs with names like “God Bless Our Dead Marines”, but any thoughtful listen to Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s latter-day records, especially this year’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, reveals the hope that courses through Menuck’s collective.
That doesn’t change the fact that Thee Silver Mt. Zion is an angry band. Rage is built into the bones of their music, where distortion blankets squealing strings and pummeling percussion. Menuck seems interested in complicating that perception, trading his bite for an increased focus on humor and lightness in interviews and press releases. And if that is his goal, the Hang On to Each Other EP is an unmitigated success. By “remixing” 2005’s stunning campfire sing-along “Hang On to Each Other” (from Horses in the Sky) into something you’d hear beneath disco lights, Thee Silver Mt. Zion haven’t just subverted expectations. They’ve also embodied a playfulness that’s only been hinted at previously on 2004’s The “Pretty Little Lightning Paw” E.P.
Hang On to Each Other is no joke, though. The band sincerely loves dance music and emphasized in a press release that there is no irony (or guitar) to be found in either of these two tracks, both of which exceed 10 minutes. The songs are every bit as loaded as a traditional Thee Silver Mt. Zion cut, only this time with 808s, auto-wah bass, and keyboard, all swirling around the echo-laden vocals of AroarA singer Ariel Engle, who doesn’t just spit the original’s lyrics, but transforms them into prolonged wails that crisscross effectively with the existent drones.
It’s bewitching, sure, and it finally gives militant leftists something to pump fists to that isn’t M.I.A., but ultimately it reads more as an amusing tangent than an extension of the conversation that Menuck’s been conducting all these years. The EP adds texture and depth to a band that’s easy to categorize as “political,” “humorless,” or “scary.” More importantly, it represents a more effective method of celebration than the aforementioned parade, which would have been a pain in the ass to organize, anyway.
Essential Tracks: “Birds Toss Precious Flowers”