as the sparks fly
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


I'm not at home, so some mp3s will be posted later tonight.

On Sunday, I went to see A Silver Mt. Zion at La Salla Rosa, for one of their two Montreal dates. I like seeing bands like ASMZ and Godspeed! here; it feels like I'm hearing them perform in their preferred environments, in the proper context. The room was filled with enthusiastic and approving spectators, with nary a wisp of cynicism to be felt. Even the openers - De La Caucase - who were abrasive and droning, with shouted eastern european vocals on top, were v. well received.

I say "no cynicism," but really there was some skepticism in the crowd - that is, from me. I enjoy ASMZ's music very much - I like the way that their orchestral rock is thoughtful, varied, profound. Much deeper than the shallow peaks and valleys of GY!BE. I like the way they'll move from flickers of mandolin and guitar through to terrifying cello/bass/violin strokes, and then up into the smash of drums and the squall of an electric guitar. Or not. I like the way they've started to explore appalachian choral techniques - medleys and rounds that weave in and out of the staccato strings or the organ pulse. And yet, as anyone will know who has read my review of the last Mt. Zion record, the band is suffering from one particularly woeful flaw. Efrim's vocals, once nearly irrelevant, are central to the bulk of the band's new material. And his vocals suck. He whines, he huffs, he whimpers like a witch whose larynx has withered. He's only very rarely on key, but more importantly, his voice sounds ugly, immature, cloying. Atop this beautiful and horrifying music, he'll whinge away, his whimpers repeated over and over, the skeleton of the song, and sometimes I can hardly stand it. Live, it was even worse: with his vocals in the fore, the inanity of his politics were foregrounded for me. He conjures some great images, yes, but Efrim's priority seems to be to erect a political dichotomy of the simplest, most naive kind. He sings constantly of revolution - a revolution of what is wholly and totally GOOD ("us," "earth," "human souls,") and what is wholly and totally BAD (cops ["pigs"], cities, machines, enterprise). Even as a leftist, this simple binary infuriates me - the problems of the world exist because we tend to represent our conflicts with such naive and ignorant oppositions. Police officers are not evil. Shop-owners (heck, corporations) are not evil. There's some evil behaviour, sure, but ditto among the paladins of social justice. Not only does Efrim's singing ruin whole songs, the message he transmits does more harm than good, applauding radical reductionism over compassion and responsible thought.

Sorry: I got carried away.

ASMZ's music is fine, the concert was even good, but the feelings/imaginings that the strange, dark music was evoking - the messianic push, idealism, self-determination, life, nature, hope - kept being undermined by the conceit of Efrim's vocal priority, the foolishness and immaturity of the political position that the band was privileging.

Friday -- The Arcade Fire w. The Wrens.

Posted by Sean at February 4, 2004 12:34 PM

you are darn right, sean. efrim's vocals on the latest album are terrible. he cannot sing but apparently he does not realize this himself. as he doesn't realize that the world is too complex a place to be easily divided into good and bad. in a way his attitude is as simple as bush's. only with good and bad exchanged.

Posted by alex at February 4, 2004 12:53 PM

why don't you all shut the fuck up and go listen to neil young's "tonight's the night" and tell me that you need to sing like pavarotti to make beautiful music?

Posted by Anonymous at February 9, 2004 11:43 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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