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Archive for the ‘Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band’ Category

silence THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-13 Blues for Thirteen Moons [CST051] (2008).

330px-13_Blues_for_Thirteen_MoonsThis album opens with 12 tracks of a kind of feedbacking noise.  The total time for this is about a minute before track 13 begins.  And this album feels very different from the more acoustic Horses.  Whereas Horses felt acoustic and organic, this album is noisy and raucous and very electric.  After the 12 brief tracks there are four lengthy ones that comprise the album.

“1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound” starts with scratched notes and pizzicato strings.  The choir quietly begins singing the title “one million died to make this sound.”  Their voices grow louder and then at about 3 minutes in there’s a great bowed riff that introduces the more rocking section–a guitar “solo” and drums as that bass riff continues.  About mid way through the song it takes on a real rocking feel–the guitars rock out and the steady beat keeps up.  The song feels sloppy and intense–like they couldn’t wait to get this out.  I would describe the song as fun (except that it’s pretty bleak).  Efrim’s voice sounds a bit like Johnny Rotten or some other British punk) on this song and the punk style suits it well.  I really love the way the violin-swells make the riffs even bigger until about 9 minutes when the song shifts dramatically again and it feels like a Crazy Horse jam–big, sloppy, noisy guitars.  The song reaches a sort of natural stopping point as the music all fades away and the voices resume–I love the choir of voices at the end of the song (although perhaps Efrim’s voice could be a tad quieter?  Efrim’s voice seems to be a polarizing thing for fans of this band.  I’m even polarized about it on different songs–sometimes I think it’s too much, but other times I think it works well.

“13 Blues for Thirteen Moons” is 16 minutes long.  It begins with thumping drums and bass before Efrim’s voice comes chanting in.  The song is noisy and chaotic–lots of drums and cymbals and then the backing vocals start a call and response with the lead vocals.  The song continues in the same vein–with a refrain of “I Just Want Some Action” but then around 5 minutes a big distorted guitar plays a kind of concluding riff before a quieter guitar begins a new section with some quiet picking.  And its in this section that the album title is sung.  This quiet guitar section goes on for quite a while with Efrim shouting various parts–and then second voice joins him.  It’s unusual that the band will play the same riff through so much of a song, but it’s a good riff.  The whole band picks up the riff as it grows louder and more rocking.  The final two minutes are filled with feedback and quiet guitars with Efrim shouting syllable after syllable until it feedbacks to an end.  It’s a pretty intense song.

“Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues” opens in a much quieter way with slow revered guitars.  The vocals are also slow and accompanied by a lone cello.  But after a minute and a half chaos erupts in the song–feedback squalls and wild guitars accompanied by chaotic drumming make the song sound like it is tripping over itself , but it soon resolves to a quiet part like the intro–this time with two singers.  The song builds again, with the chaotic drums fighting for dominance over the string section.  But they both cede again to the quieter vocals once more.  The band then acts in concert building the song and allowing the vocals to continue.  And after a musical interlude, the vocals begin again over a quiet organ.  And this next section builds as strings accompany the louder vocals and the drum gets a pounding martial beat.  The final section, which appears to be the “Engine Broke Blues” is a repeated refrain of “Building Trainwrecks in the Setting Sun.”

The final song “BlindBlindBlind” also opens quietly, with a simple guitar motif.  As the vocals continue, a ringing guitar and a feedbacking guitar join the song (each in a different ear).  And then a violin adds to the melody.  About 4 minutes in, the melody shifts to an organ heavy section with the lead vocal followed by backing vocals.  A pizzicato section begins next.  What’s interesting is that the vocal melody hasn’t really changed this whole time (in this song Efrim again sounds a bit like a British punk rocker).  At around 7 minutes, the song turns towards the end, with strings and drums.  This end bit is my favorite part on the record, not only for the melody, but for the excellent backing chanting.  The backing vocal melody is very cool in itself–I love when they add the high notes–repeating the refrain “Some hearts are true” over and over.  A guitar solo interrupts the proceedings for a bit and then they resume singing all the way to the end.  It’s a very cathartic conclusion.

For this album, the lineup stayed the same although Eric Craven replaced Scott Levine Gilmore on drums.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post about this album.  It’s pretty brief and mostly talks about the singing.

[READ: March 1, 2016] The Silence of Our Friends

This was the final First Second book that I had in a huge stack that I took out from the library.  I had been putting this book off because I was nervous about reading it.  Nothing pretty is going to happen in a Civil Rights book and I had to prepare myself for it.  Obviously, the era is staggeringly important–even more so today with the kind of political rhetoric being shouted around.  That’s not why i didn’t want to read it.  I was afraid about how ugly this book might get.

But in fact, this book doesn’t go in that direction at all.  It is a factual story and while it looks at racism, it also shines a light of hope on race relations. It’s another excellent graphic novel from First Second [#10yearsof01].

What I did not know is that this story is based on actual events–the author’s father was a journalist in Texas during a serious Civil Rights confrontation.  And his father was able to help offset a travesty of justice.  He risked his career and even his own safety to do the right thing.

Set in Houston in 1968, we see some kids playing army in the yard.  This is also during Vietnam, so that’s probably not a very uncommon sight.  When the kids go inside, their mom is watching the Saigon execution on TV.  She is horrified and begins crying. The talk that night is of the atrocities of war. (more…)

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leotardSOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Horses in the Sky [CST033] (2005).

This album is described as 330px-Horses_in_the_Sky_album_cover “6 busted ‘waltzes’ for world wars 4 thru 6” … the “first song’s about war and drug addiction, fourth song’s about kanada, and the rest of it is all love songs.”

This album proves to be their folkiest and most organic sounding album.  The songs are mostly pretty mellow, including one that was recorded at a campfire.

“God Bless Our Dead Marines” opens the disc.  It’s 12 minutes long and begins “They put angels in the electric chair, the electric chair.”  The melody is pretty catchy and the accompanying minimal strings accentuate the song nicely.  About 90 seconds into the song, the drums come in and the song takes on a rumbling field.  The vocals are repeated a lot, and Efrim’s voice is placed nicely in the mix.  The middle of song takes on a kind of shanty quality with lots of clapping and a loud electric guitar.  Around 3:30 the song stops and a new melody comes in, primarily on bowed bass.  The sound of this section is spare but very cool.  The piano returns (this is one of the first songs in a while to rely so heavily on piano) and a new melody (including the title of the song) is sung (again, a very catchy folk-song kind of melody) with occasional guitar chords.   The lyrics are also pretty straightforward and poetic.  While in no way suggesting this song could have been popular, it is certainly approachable and fairly conventional (even at 11 minutes).  At 9 minutes the song is stripped of all music except piano.  And several rounds of voices begin singing “when the world is sick, can no one be well, but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.”  When the third set of voices (these are bass) come in, it really sounds great.

“Mountains Made of Steam” opens with guitar harmonics and a contrasting simple guitar melody.  The vocals come in about 90 seconds in.  The song is also surprisingly stripped down.  The voices and bass grow a little louder at around 3 minutes, but not in a building and building kind of way.  After a few rounds of “Ya di da di di’s,” the instrumental section swells.  It is loud and soaring but not big the way GYBE is.   The low resounding bowed bass in this song is really fantastic–it’s very big and round and really satisfying

“Horses in the Sky” opens with acoustic guitars and Efrim singing quietly.  It sounds like a very traditional folk song.  There’s a second voice singing harmony (just about everyone is listed as doing vocals).  The lyrics sum up the tone of the song, “Schools look like prisons and our prisons look like malls / Downtown just a sick parade where no one cares at all.”  This is one of the few songs from the band that doesn’t really change over the course of the whole song (some keyboards are added, but it is otherwise pretty much just guitar and voice).

“Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns” starts with echoed guitars and strings and the vocals: “Kanada oh Kanada I ain’t never been your son.”  Strings slowly fill out the melody as more voices start singing that above refrain and Efrim’s indictments mount.  This continues with some swirling strings until about 7 minutes when the drums start pounding out three note blast.  When the vocals come back in, they are the harshest on the album, both from the lead and backing vocals.

“Hang on to Each Other” was recorded “next to a campfire by the river” … “at Garfield’s fire pit.”  You can hear the fire crackling as the song begins.  There’s some simple “ba dum da da dum” vocals before a harmonium grows louder.  Aside from that instrument, it’s otherwise almost entirely a capella with various voices singing different parts, primarily “hang on to each other,” “any fucking thing you love” and “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” in various rounds and harmonies.  It’s really quite a moving song.

“Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)”  is 13 minutes long.  The song opens with slow strings.  A voice, which follows  a piano melody, sings the “freedom has come and gone” part.  The song feels fuller than the rest of the album with strings and bass filing the background.   The instrumental part is the biggest and most dramatic on the record with swelling strings and occasional guitars ringing out until 4 minutes in when everything drops out except for one violin and a bass and a new vocal melody.  But soon enough a buzzy electric guitar comes in to add more drama to this song.  And then it quiets down again, with staccato guitar and strings getting softer and softer until it fades out entirely for a few seconds.  And then a new guitar line begins.  It is replaced by single piano notes and wild (but quiet) feedback.  Efrim sings over as the feedback builds louder and louder until the screeching end.

This is definitely one of my favorite overall SMtZ albums.  Even if it is quieter and less diverse than other ones, the melodies and song structures are really solid.

The band is back up to seven people for this recording with all of the former players playing but with Scott Levine Gilmore on drums.

  • Thierry Amar – contrabass, glasses, harmonica, voice
  • Becky Foon – cello, voice
  • Ian Ilavsky – guitar, harmonium, voice
  • Scott Levine Gilmore – drums, percussion, guitar, mandolin, voice
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, voice
  • Jessica Moss – violin, piano, glasses, voice
  • Sophie Trudeau – violin, trumpet, glasses, voice

[READ: May 3, 2016] The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard

Eddie Campbell wrote The Black Diamond Detective Agency which I enjoyed, and The Fate of The Artist, which I enjoyed even more.  Both were pretty unusual–lots of different things going on.  Well, this book has even more stuff going on in it.

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from this.  I assumed it would be a biography of Jules Léotard, the daredevil acrobat who developed the art of trapeze, popularized the one-piece item that bears his name and was the inspiration for the song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

But in this book that Jules Léotard dies on page 12.  Upon his deathbed, with no will written, his worldly possession (a fake mustache) is bequeathed to his nephew, Etienne.  So Etienne puts on the mustache and flies to Paris (in a hot air balloon, of course) to join Leotard’s troupe of circus performers.  When he finds out that they have eaten most of the animals because they were starving, his plans change somewhat.

And so this book is all about Etienne pretending to be the (possibly reincarnated) amazing Léotard and the fascinating adventures he gets up to. (more…)

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