This fourth full length release from Silver Mt. Zion is their most divisive yet. If Efrim’s voice bothered you on This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing you can expect another dose of his grating whine. What’s funny however, is that no matter how annoying it may be, when the group joins in the fray Efrim’s voice suddenly becomes a sharp anchor among the other tuneful voices. When this occurs it takes on a different function—no longer a singular voice that pierces the music, it becomes instead a defeated wail, carried and comforted by a beautiful choir.
Horses in the Sky is filled with both such moments. Beginning with “God Bless Our Dead Marines,” Efrim sings “They put angels in the electric chair / the electric chair / the electric chair.” It is one of the albums weakest moments and is the most immediate departure from the bands traditional sound. The nervous strings help the proceedings but things don’t get much better until the songs final section. Although there are only six songs on Horses in the Sky most of them are comprised of distinct sections. One of the most beautiful comes at the eight minute mark of “God Bless Our Dead Marines.” Solo at first until the entire group joins, they sing over piano and lone drum hits: “When the world is sick / can no one be well / but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.” This ‘almost but not quite’ a capella coda is the first great section on the album. Later in “Mountains Made of Steam” the strings take on a massive echo effect that sounds utterly huge. Most of the instrumentation on Horses in the Sky is up to the bands high quality standards.
“Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns” is the basest track here. It contains some of the most annoying vocals on this record while featuring some of the worst lyrics: “Oh Canada / Oh Canada / I ain’t never been your son.” At the end a repetitive exchange of the songs title is spoken like beat poetry between two members of the band. “Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns” is everything that the band should stay away from. Elsewhere, “Hang on to Each Other” is wonderful from beginning to end. It starts off with campfire crackle, accordion and a couple of members from the group sounding a wistful vocal tune. Efrim joins in with his least annoying vocal on record and eventually the rest of the band joins in to begin the hopeful refrain, “Hang on to each other and every fucking thing you love,” which may sound silly here but actually works as a final, hopeful plea. “Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)” ends the album beautifully with lone piano, soft plucking and what sounds like a distant wood saw while the vocals remain controlled and melancholic.
Clearly, the most incredible moments on Horses in the Sky occur when the band drops Efrim’s solo caterwauling in favor of a group melody. There are a few codas on this disc that are so lovely I wish the whole record was full of them, each song a series of shifting codas. These wonderful moments sound like post-apocalyptic choirs who have gathered to create humanities last messages—they sound like what the last melody on Earth would sound like, after its destruction by world war or some other pointless tragedy.
“Their old stuff is better” is a popular comment among cynical music enthusiasts and unfortunately that criticism can be directed towards Silver Mt. Zion nowadays. He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms was an album wrecked with sadness and desolation. “13 Angels Standing Guard ‘Round the Side of Your Bed” remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard by this band or any. Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward contained a subtle beauty characteristic of bands who have fully matured. It’s odd, but Silver Mt. Zion seem to be developing in reverse; Horses in the Sky sounds like it should have been the bands spotty debut album rather than the fourth into their career. I have always appreciated the band for their restraint—their unimposing yet colossal regret-laden melodies. The sort of angst conveyed on Horses in the Sky is too confrontational for this band. Their ideals come through much better through minimal provocation, as evidenced by those brilliant past recordings. Although Horses in the Sky has its moments, they are not enough to make this an essential purchase even for the ‘post-rock’ crowd.
- Andrew Iliadis
/may 1st 2005/