Anchored by the fried electric guitar and plangent voice of band leader Efrim Menuck, Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra (SMZ) returns with its sixth full-length recording and continues to slide comfortably and unforcedly towards an expansive, loose and blues-inflected balladry – not so much the riffing blues shuffle of 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, but a more languid waltz-time marking an almost smouldering dynamic arc, as heard on the new album’s opening track “There Is A Light” and closer “’Piphany Rambler”. Driven by some of this decade’s more devastating lyrical conjurings of the universal outsider and the thematics of 21st century western psychic oppression, these are no simple paens to the human spirit, but songs of complex, desperate and thorny hope.
With Efrim now the lone guitarist, his shattered oscillating tone and staggered snarling leads collide against one another on tape, framed by a swirling widescreen backdrop of dual violins (Jessica & Sophie) serving up arpeggiated runs and modernist strokes that counterbalance and destabilize the more conventional progressions at the core of any given song or movement. The upright bass work as always plays a similar role, fluidly moving from harmonic anchor to counterpoint to adventurous extrapolation, displaying Thierry’s fluency and alliance with free jazz, improv and out music. The way all these strings push and pull, with their own multiplicity of influences, against those punk rock ‘lektrik guitars has long been one of SMZ’s crucial and inimitable strengths. It is on fine display in many exciting new guises on the new album, and the band’s freshest member, drummer David Payant, does a wonderful job playing into and off of this heady brew.