A SILVER MT. ZION He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms (Constellation)

A Silver Mt. Zion are a side-project of Godspeed You Black Emperor! members Efrim, Thierry and Sophie, and this, their verbose debut album, is dedicated to the memory of one of their number's dog Wanda. The music presented herein is divided into two side-long suites, "Lonely As The Sound Of Lying On The Ground Of An Airplane Going Down" and "The World Is sickSICK; (So Kiss Me Quick)". The whole arrives packaged in the familiar GYBE! DIY style.

Rather predictably, the noise made by A Silver Mt. Zion is fantastic. The nearest and neatest reference point is that of a stripped-down, semi-unplugged Godspeed You Black Emperor!, but other fleeting images include Eno's "Music For Airports" being played on a drunkenly out-of-tune pub piano ("Broken Chords Can Sing A Little"), Neil Young and Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donohue, of whom Efrim's quavering singing on "Movie (Never Made)" is strongly reminiscent of, or celestial choirs crooning loops for the Gods ("13 Angels Standing Guard 'Round The Side Of Your Bed", which is quite frankly one of the most astonishingly beautiful pieces of music ever committed to tape).

If you adore the music of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, this album is an essential purchase. If not, but your tastes wander anywhere towards Eno's left-of-centre ambience or the eternal source of light divine that radiates from the calm between Mogwai's torrential guitar storms you might find much to entertain you here.

THE SILVER MOUNT ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward (Constellation)

A Silver Mt. Zion is a side-project curated by Godspeed You Black Emperor! members Efrim, Sophie and Thierry, augmented in this incarnation by Beckie, Ian, Jessica and Jonah's courageously overdubbed one-man brass section. Following last year's immaculately luminous "He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms", "Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward" unfortunately engenders the same slight feelings of disappointment and anticlimax that were promoted by the last Godspeed You Black Emperor! album. It's not as if anybody's been caught slacking: every note and syllable on this immaculately packaged album is suffused with loving care, but the resultant whole seems to fall short of the impossibly high standards the band have attained in the past.

But take a guided tour of the good bits, and especially if you're new to the Silver Mt. Zion soundworld, you might never notice. "Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats Of Fire Are Falling From The Sky!" opens proceedings in appropriately post-apocalyptic fashion, swirling with rattling coughs of feedback and strings that only reveal their form fully when a gorgeous, waltzing piano melody circles in. (As an aside, I can't help thinking that the soliloquy that introduces "Built Then Burnt [Hurrah! Hurrah!]" - "Let's crash our planes into the river…This Jericho waiting to fall" - might have mutated gruesomely in meaning in the time between recording and release.) "Take These Hands And Throw Them In The River" offers clanging, discordant howling that transforms unexpectedly into birdsong. Which is all creative enough, but in adhering closely to a template of slow-moving guitar and string patterns much of the first disc of this double 10" set seems harder, even more melancholy and far less bittersweetly melodic than previous A Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You Black Emperor! outings.

The second album marks the return of the big guns: "C'MonComeOn (Loose An Endless Longing)" features the kind of craggy, ragged crescendos that make the best of both bands' material so grinningly thrilling, with a building-site of percussion clattering away in the background. There's a brief brass interlude that sounds somewhat akin to the Anglia TV ident being covered by a Salvation Army band, before another wave of traditional Godspeed drum/bass/guitar/melody/distortion washes over it. The final track, "The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes", is a campfire hymn that climaxes in the repeated assertion that "Musicians are cowards", a pretty damning self-assessment from a band as deathlessly committed to their art as this one.

So "Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward" is a consistently challenging and experimental album from artists who refuse to compromise or rest on the laurels of overwhelming critical, if not commercial, success. But like so many albums I've heard this year, it fails to top the unbestable achievements of its predecessor, which, in "13 Angels Standing Guard 'Round The Side Of Your Bed", contained one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever captured by magnetic tape. Nevertheless, even when constrained to the realms of the possible, rather than the impossible, the Silver Mt. Zion collective are worth the time, trouble and ears of anybody whose tastes swim away from the mainstream.

Godspeed You Black Emperor!

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