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Friday, September 19, 2003
Oh, we've missed you, Pitchfork...

Making thematically (and aurally) challenging music that's not particularly "easy" to summarize or decipher is obviously not something to rally against; nobody wants Silver Mt. Zion to drop their agenda, embrace facility, and dumb that shit down.

I'd just like to raise my hand here and prove you very very wrong--and this is coming from someone who very much likes the Godspeed sound. What would impress you more: a founding member of GSY!BE making post-rock, or making a great three-minute pop song? Number two, Chester. Which is more artistically valid? Neither, really, but to me that means that yeah, it'd be kind of interesting to see them dumb it down. Especially when the smartening takes this form:

But don't go getting all pogo-primed-- this is cerebral shit, less concerned with getting you to strap on black boots than encouraging you to boycott Wal-Mart and locate alternative news sources. The underlying concept of the record is heady, but not too different from what (the comparably lucid) Conor Oberst was hollering about on Desaparacidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish: lashing out against the impending threat of unregulated urban landscapes, sprawling bigbox superstores, and governmental mismanagement. Unlike Oberst, though, Silver Mt. Zion think globally, and this album also contains jabs at western imperialism, piggish entitlement, and ethically questionable military occupations.

For the most part, the band employs more subtle means of communicating their message than plain old lyrics: This is Our Punk Rock mainly consists of swooping strings, hollowed chanting, and found sounds arranged into big orchestral and choral sequences. Opener "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom" features a swoon-and-break structure that resurfaces on the album again and again: these songs are far from formulaic, but they occasionally mimic each other's movements-- multi-layered vocals bleed into orchestral recesses, which shift into silence and then into noise.

Wait--so what are the jabs? Could I get some details here? Because Godspeed does this too. I'm assuming that since there are vocals, there are some, I don't know, cries of "fuck Bush!" or something? I can't even seem to find a tracklist anywhere, but the website does give us this tidbit:

Destruction of communities (foreign & local) are lamented & eulogised in the following tracks, culminating in the album closer: an ode to the unzoned terrain surrounding the railyards adjacent to the neighbourhood where the band, along with many other Montreal musicians & artists, have lived since the early 1990s. This land is now being swallowed up by big box & condo development.

In other words, it's a NIMBY thing, eh? Affordable housing and cheap standards of living for all, but don't put up a big ugly mass-production/distribution place where I can see it!

Minor jibes aside, I guess this is a pretty good example of why people don't like "political music," since it seems to be arguable political opinions grafted as fact onto musical backings that would seem to have little to do with them. Of course, this is pretty much the opposite of "political music" as I would define it, since taking "jabs" is far from political. Indeed, from the description here, it sounds about as political as a kiss-off song: "you did wrong and I'm a-gonna tell you why!" But this is not political, this is not engaging in a dialogue or an argument or acknowledging objections, it's just assuming a position of impotence and preaching to the choir. That's the problem with communities, of course, that they tend to have far more uniform standards and opinions than, well, than the body politic. So that means, first, that they're sort of shying away from democratic engagement (instead of trying to understand the appeal of the big box and finding some sort of compromise, they recognize it as contrary to their community's values and seek to reject it outright), and second, that it's probably not very useful to tell a community to seek out alternative news sources when they probably already do, if they're listening to ASMZ. Indeed, all my experience tells me that if you've decided to limit yourself to a certain group of people it actually makes sense to challenge their assumptions, to open them up to the hidden good in mass media. But this is me, I suppose.

In other news, on Amazon, "jesus" says "If you thought The Old Testament was good try ASMZMO&T-L-LBW/C." And for the AFR fans in the audience, here is a Quebecois review.