Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (SMZ) returns with its sixth full-length recording and first since the band's line-up change in summer 2008. Having shed three members and recruited a new drummer, the group officially dropped the "Tra-La-La Band' from its name, played a debut performance as a newly minted quintet at All Tomorrow's Parties in upstate NY, and embarked on an extensive European tour through the Fall of 2008. As Kollaps Tradixionales ably demonstrates, the band has lost none of its raw and frazzled anthemic power and continues to forge bold new ground in its search for a unique hybrid of punk, blues, psych, folk and modern orchestral idioms.
Anchored by the fried electric guitar and plangent voice of band leader Efrim Menuck (who previously co-founded Godspeed You! Black Emperor) SMZ continues to slide towards an expansive, loose and blues-inflected balladry - not so much the inexorably riffing blues shuffle of the title track from its previous effort, 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, but a more languid waltz-time marking the smouldering dynamic arcs of the new album's opening track "There Is A Light" and gorgeous closer "'Piphany Rambler."
Whatever the blues influence, the slow burn of SMZ bears little relation to typical notions of musical seduction, relaxation, or hip-swinging satisfaction. What crackles here is much more precarious and anxious, driven by some of this decade's more devastating lyrical conjurings of the universal outsider and the antinomies born of 21st century western psychic oppression. As the lyrics to "There Is A Light" attest, these are no simple paeans to the human spirit, but songs of complex, desperate and thorny hope. The words to this song (and so many others too often misunderstood in the SMZ canon) should dispel the oft-repeated charge that Menuck is some sort of miserablist or glib pessimist.
And of course there is plenty going on here that ain't no blues at all, particularly the two middle sides of this double album. "Metal Bird" (as it has been known to fans from set lists over the past couple of years) has been a crowd favorite in concert in recent years, careening through a throbbing 7/4 template of intertwined ascending and descending lines, coalescing into unison melodies and pumping breakdowns. The sonic references are abundant - from afrobeat to bouzouki music to hard bop to punk rock. The three phases of the album's title track on Side Three are indeed 'traditionals' of a sort, playing on tropes of American and Anglo-Saxon folk, marching song, sea shanty and hymnal. Together they make for perhaps the most overtly enchanting ("Kollapz"), tender ("Collapse") and terrifyingly rapturous ("Kollaps") music on the record.