The Montreal group—from the Godspeed You! Black Emperor family—once again deconstruct familiar genres in richly emotional ways that make Fuck Off Get Free… their most immediate work to date, says Daniel Jones.
I wasn’t a very musically diverse person at the beginning of the millennium. My love of hip-hop hadn’t progressed much beyond Biggie, Tupac, and Aaliyah, anarcho-punk was mainly inspiring me to take a bath, and it would be five years before I delved into electronic music outside of what goth, industrial, and new wave—the music of my nineties youth—had to offer. I was on the hunt for something different, something my ears had never experienced. That’s when a friend handed me a CD from a band called Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
I’d never heard the term post-rock before, so I had no context to tell me what to expect the first time I listened to Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. It’s certainly a term that would have turned me off (and still does) as rock music in general held little interest for me. I left my comfort zone blind, unknowing… and returned in awe. Here was the shaped noise of industrial and musique concrète, the tribal drums of punk, the tear-inducing grace of classical, and a variety of other dissolved and reformatted genres I struggled to make sense of—an aural portmanteau unfurling in my head.
Separately, these genres were beloved and mind-snaring, yet never before had I been so truly and completely moved, so enraptured. For weeks after, Lift Your Skinny Fists played incessantly on my stereo as I laid on my bed with headphones on, turning the individual pieces and full movements of the album over and over in my head. It wasn’t long before I began to seek out more examples, and I soon laid hands on He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms…, the debut LP of Godspeed offshoot A Silver Mount Zion. Expanding upon the textures and moods of Lift Your Skinny Fists, it replaced incessant heaviness with sparse minimalism, conjured melancholy rather than menace. While I would go on to discover other musicians working in similar territories, few albums since these first two have ever filled me with more wonder.
Five albums and an equal number of name changes later, the group have evolved into their own distinctive unit that currently operates under the name Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra. Their gradual shift toward more conventional song structures is something that also shifted my interest in other directions around 2005. That’s why I was so surprised to recently find myself as I was fourteen years ago: lying in bed with headphones on, digesting the individual segments of their new album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything with an ecstatic spirit. The passage of years and the experience that comes with them allows me a far greater amount of contextualization; it’s a sad yet natural fact of life that you’re often granted only a few occasions to discover music that feels truly new, and even more rare to be irrevocably moved by it. Yet Fuck Off still embodies the strange spirit I felt hearing that earlier work. A vibrant and churning album, it leaves behind almost every remnant of post-rock (a term the band themselves feel is inaccurate), instead fully embracing the punk ethos that SMZ creator Efrum Menuck often cites as influential to his work. Hardcore and metalesque riffs dive in and out amongst neo-classical violin, pounding percussion, and Menuck’s impassioned vocals.
Where He Has Left Us Alone evokes an atmosphere of stark alien somberness, here the mood is almost violently jubilant, even as Menuk condemns the injustices he sees in the world. Fuck Off presents another side to the cold emotional spiral that once help reshape my musical mind, conceived by one which has also been reshaped by the passage of time, by parenthood, and by a society that so often seems to be in a downward spiral itself. But there’s still an atmosphere of hope present throughout, be it in the hypnotically-charged repetition of the chorus, “Lord, let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down,” on “Austerity Blues”, the high-intensity shredding that backs up the socio-political lyrics of “Take Away These Early Grave Blues”, and even in the haunting “What We Loved Was Not Enough”, formed with organ and ethereal strings and fading with the words, “And the day has come when we no longer feel.”
In a musical landscape that can occasionally seem over-saturated by a try-hard, post-genre mentality, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything feels entirely organic. As uncommercial as it is, it’s also the group’s most immediately accessible album to date, with even the most experimental and monolithic movements packed with catchy hooks and choruses. More than that, it feels truthful, and it never seeks to falsely evoke emotion. At the album’s beginning, a child says, “We make a lot of noise because we love each other.” Whatever means they use to get there, that most sought-after of emotional highs is the ultimate destination Silver Mount Zion strive for—a love that fills you with light, even if it’s only a memory.~
Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is out January 24th via Constellation Records.