This album is a pretty massive change for A Silver Mt Zion. It both brings this band closer to their alter ego GYBE but also pushes them further away at the same time. How? Well, musically, this album sounds a lot more like GYBE–epic songs all over ten minutes with lots of strings and soaring moments. But the big difference now is that every song has vocals (hence the new title of the band). The line up has stayed the same although they have many guests for the choir. The choir is referred to on the album as Thee Rusted Satellite Choir.
“Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom” opens the disc with someone counting of “1234… 12345678.” And then a simple guitar and bass melody starts up. The song sounds fairly conventional, in fact. And then the choir kicks in. Many many voices singing, “Ahhhh.” And then a solo voice continues the “Ahhhs” in another pitch while the choir continues. I love this whole introduction–the various keys the voices are in, how the bass voices start singing “fa fa fa la la so” and on and on in varying formats. The choir (a bunch of friends and bandmates) sounds great–not perfect but perfect for this song. This lasts for about 7 minutes before the choir fades and the rest of the song begins with a swelling of droning music. Strings come in and the song stays quiet for a couple of minutes before the guitar riff from the beginning returns this time with string accompaniment instead of voices. Around 12 minutes the strings change to something else–more grandiose music which sounds amazing. About a minute later the drums begin and the song takes on a whole new style. This more rocking sound continues until the end of the song. It’s awesome.
“Babylon Was Built on Fire/StarsNoStars” opens with staccato echoed guitars (it also feels a bit like Pink Floyd). There’s ambient washes of guitars that float around, but the whole things sounds very trippy (not a sound I associate with this band). About six minutes in, Efrim begins singing. This is the first time he’s sung quite so loudly and clearly. His voice is anguished and a bit harsh, but it works pretty well with the violins and the cool bassline that walks throughout the song. With about 4 minutes left, the music changes direction. The guitar starts playing a single note, growing louder and louder as the strings surround the guitar and voice: “Citizens in their homes and missiles in their holes.” Efrim (I assume) sings a round with himself as more and more lines of text fill the song. Although his voice doesn’t sound radically different in each one, he does adjust volume and tone enough to make it sound pretty interesting.
“American Motor over Smoldered Field” is the shortest song on the disc at 12 minutes. It begins with a simple acoustic guitar melody (quite pretty) and Efrim singing over it (I appreciate the different vocal styles in this song). It’s really quite a compelling song as that guitar continues and the strings come in behind it. Around four minutes in, the drums crash and the song takes off. The strings change and the song becomes very intense–faster and louder. This lasts about three minutes before a staccato guitar picks up and choral voices are heard way in the background. The voices (all Efrim, I believe) build and build as the guitar maintains. Around nine minutes the strings and guitars change and the song flows as a new vocal line joins in “this fence around your garden won’t keep the ice from falling.”
The final song, the 14 minute “Goodbye Desolate Railyard” also opens with acoustic guitar and Efrim’s vocals. The song (an elegy for a dying city) remain simple–acoustic guitar, simple violin and bass notes. The song is repetitive, lulling the listener into as sense of contentment. Although at around 5 minutes, the violins swell and become a little unpleasant–kind of harsh and a little staticky. This continues for some 5 minutes until it is replaced by the rather close up sound of a freight train going slowly down a track. After two minutes of this, the acoustic guitar returns with Efrim singing (in a very Neil Young kind of voice) “every body gets a little lost sometimes.” The full choir joins in to sing these final words for a several rounds before fading out.
[READ: May 10, 2016] Breach Point
Steve and I are pals of Facebook. If I may wax jealous for a minute, Steve has done everything that I’d ever wanted to do when I was younger–he’s been in a band (cuppa joe–they released several really good albums); he’s a graphic designer, something I always imagined being when I grew up; and now he has written a novel. So, yes, basically I hate Steve. Except that, of course, I don’t hate Steve.
I hate him even less because this book is not only really good, but it has brought back a part of my childhood that I had forgotten about.
When I (and anyone else who grew up in the New Jersey area in the 70s) was a kid, there were always commercials for Brigantine Castle in Brigantine NJ. The commercials scared the hell out of me and I was always terrified to go to this place. I knew it was down the shore but never exactly where. And there were times when we drove to the shore and I was convinced we were going to the castle instead (totally false, Brigantine was way further north than any beach we would have gone to). And then Brigantine Castle burned down. Interestingly, after watching these commercials again coupled with The Haunted Mansion (another commercial played quite often), I learned that the Haunted Mansion was in Long Branch. I never went to that Haunted House either, although I have since been to the convention center that now stands where the Haunted Mansion once stood before it burned down.
Yes, Both Brigantine castle and the Haunted Mansion burned down. People know what happened in the Haunted Mansion fire, but the Brigantine Castle fire is shrouded in mystery.
This is all a long way to say that Steve has written a book that is based around this mystery.
Clara is a 16-year-old girl who travels to Breach Point for the summer. She has gotten a job at an engineering firm and she is going to live with her Aunt Maureen. When the book first opens, we see her on the bus, happy to get away from her mother and excited but nervous about gong to this place that she vaguely remembers.
She soon learns about the Breach Point Castle, a haunted house that burned down mysteriously many years ago. The mystery is too interesting to pass up, so she heads over to the beach, out by the pier where the castle once stood. Of course there’s nothing there anymore, but she takes some pictures anyway (Clara has a serious camera, not just a cell phone). While there, she meets Nicholas. He’s a local kid and talented artist (Breach Point is a kind of artist’s community). Nicholas is also very nice. He shows her some of his sketches of the castle and then asks if she’d like to meet some of the people who used to work there.
Turns out that Nicholas’ Uncle Kevin and his friends were once actors at the Castle. And this summer they are doing a kind of tribute to the Castle at the summer reunion. Most of the actors are friendly but Kevin is very suspicious right from meeting her. Nevertheless, Clara says she will go to this special party if Nicholas will be there as well. One thing that I really liked about the story is that there is some mild flirtation between these two but nothing more. We know Clara’s intentions, and while we don’t know Nicholas’ he never pushes her into anything like that (possibly unrealistic, but I appreciated it–it keeps the focus on the mystery not a romance).
Slowly Clara starts learning bit and pieces about the fire that burned down the castle. Nicholas’ friends fill her in on all of the rumors about what happened. They even show her a creepy video. The crux of the matter is that a boy named Eric was burned in the fire. What was he doing in the castle when he shouldn’t have been there? Some people even think he never died. There’s speculation about supernatural elements. Nicholas tells her not to believe any of these things. The fire was an accident, even if it was unsolved.
It also turns out that the engineering firm where she works for the summer has kept records of all of the building and designs they have been involved with for decades. And the firm has some files about the Castle.
She also notices that there is an island off the shore which is uninhabited but where all of the artifacts from the haunted mansion are kept. That’s kind of weird, but what’s even weirder is the strange glow that emanates from the island–why would this storage facility be lighted day and night?
The more curious Clara gets, the more danger she runs into–people are starting to get suspicious of her actions.
Oh, and remember Aunt Maureen? Well, she has a heart condition. And sure enough, one night when Clara returns home, Maureen is on the floor. Clara calls 911 and gets her to the hospital on time. But now Clara is on her own in a relatively unknown house. This gives her some freedom, sure, but it also makes things a bit more scary.
She spends some of her time searching for answers to the Castle mystery and the rest of her time visiting her Aunt and hoping she gets better. Then one night she sees something unexpected at the hospital. There are men in Maureen’s room, and they seem to be doing something to her.
She tries to hide but they spot her. A chase ensues showing just how much danger Clara is really in.
This book was really exciting . Clara’s curiosity is understandable and her doggedness is to be admired (or maybe tsked at). I loved the friendship that she and Nick develop and I loved that the whole town of Breach Point seemed to be a very cool and interesting place to live.
I also really appreciated the way the ending transpired. I’ll say nothing more about it except that I expected one (or two or three) possible outcomes but was really surprised by how it played out.
There were only two things I didn’t like about the book. I didn’t like when Clara imagined what other people were thinking. And it may have simply been because the thoughts were in quotes and italicized. It’s a totally minor thing but it kind of pulled me out of the story. The other thing had to do with an aspect of the duration of the story. As the story comes to an end, it seems like the summer ends really quickly too.
Unless Clara leaves the beach early (which she might), it seemed like Maureen went into the hospital pretty early in the summer, stayed for a couple of weeks and then came home. Clara left two days later. So she didn’t stay the whole summer? Again, no big deal, it just caught me off guard.
But there was a ton I did like in the story. I also liked the epilogue, which went back in time.
And I loved the bonus materials that he included (Steve has written screen plays so he’s got that whole DVD Bonus features mindset going on).
We learn that he’s working on two sequels. But even better is he talks about the origins of the story. It was originally a screenplay. Clara was a little older. And I love the way he says that by making her just few years younger (unable to drive) and taking away her cell phone (minor plot point) it really changes the nature of the story and her dependency/friendship with Nicholas.
I also love that he was geeky enough to show us a picture of the devices he wrote on (and his use of his cell phone! for a script). He even includes a soundtrack that he listened to while writing (I have just about all of the songs). Wonder if there’s a Spotify link).
And here’s those commercials (flashback!):