Monday, May 08, 2006

Making Drinks For Nigel, Pt. 2

Calum Marsh

2. A Silver Mt. Zion - He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms (2000)

When it comes to music, I'm kind of a hard sell. Consider a recent concert experience: fellow Mocker Jon Migneault and I caught Feu Therese (Mt. Zion label-mates, quite coincidentally), who were playing with local favourites As The Poets Affirm and veritable nobodies City Of A Hundred Spires. "What did you think of 100 Spires?", Jon asked, after they had wrapped up their set. I hated it. Yes, they were talented musicians. Yes, they were entertaining performers. Yes, they were solid songwriters - so what the hell was the problem? These guys played post-rock as if they invented the genre. It was completely by the book: settling moments of quiet contrasted with towering crescendos and earth-shattering bombast; sorry, guys, it just isn't exciting anymore.

Post-rock is a dead genre. Dead, dead, dead. If you're playing in an already over-saturated genre and you don't have anything remotely interesting to bring to the table, why should I care? They could improve as performers to the point that they could play their music perfectly, but it wouldn't mean a thing unless they're playing music worth getting excited about. An entertaining performance does not a good band make. Does a band need to break new ground to be worthwhile? No, a band can certainly improve a genre by sticking to its normal conventions - but this is a genre that's been perfected - no matter how good it is, anything less than perfect just won't cut it. Sure, City Of 100 Spires might sound okay to someone who's hearing it for the first time, but to an even remotely studied listener it's just going to sound like, well, everything that came before it - only worse.

So, then, it's official: I can be overly critical. I've heard so much bloody post-rock that it's going to take a lot to impress me.

Enter A Silver Mt. Zion. The same critical line of though that sparked contempt for City Of 100 Spires was set to attack this band before I'd even heard their music. In my head I was already writing the review: Oh god, a (comparatively) minimalist off-shoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, playing more songs about an inevitable apocalypse; but what's that you say? Its theme of literal armageddon is a metaphor for our current state of affairs? How insightful they are! How utterly intelligent and downright clever this is all going to be! And just look at that cover art: "this album is ART!", it screams in your face, "listen to it and feel smarter!" Ho ho. Ooh, and Godspeed's Effrim Menuck actually sings on this record? He can't sing! Oh god, I can't wait to here that phoned-in irony - what a treat it will be to rip this record to shreds and laugh at those who love it!

Indeed. But wait just a second here - do this? No, no, I simply couldn't fall for such trite faux-intellectual rubbish. Could I? You know, it seems kind of okay. More than okay, even. Why, I think, as scary as it might sound, that I actually like this record. In fact, I may even by inclined to say I love it. I think, yes - I think it's the best record I've heard all year. I adore A Silver Mt. Zion! Yes, as much as I'd like to play the hardened critic, harping on its surface faults and discrediting it without really letting it in, I just can't. My critical defenses fail in the face of such an intensely beautiful and powerful album. Funny how that works.

So much of what I love about this album is and should remain unspoken, so I'll do what I should probably do more often and let the music speak for itself. If you've not heard this, do so now. If you've heard it and think it's anything less than breathtaking, I have some bad news for you: your heart is severely damaged and hope for recovery may already be beyond reach. I recommend that you seek help immediately.

Best Heard With: Black Tower Riesling - 2004
Black Tower RiselingDrinking wine, how trendy. Many people - myself included, to some degree - are a little nervous about getting into wine. Not because even finding your footing in the wide world of wine is a laborous and often arduous task that requires years of commitment and untold hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, but simply because it's an interest with too many undesirable connotations.

We all have a romantic idea of the fine wine connoisseur, impressing and delighting friends with his vast knowledge of such a respectable field; this is a man who demands the finer things in life and, using his wine expertise to win friends and influence others, receives nothing less than precisely that. That would be nice, but we know it doesn't work that way. No, we have a much more realistic vision of the wine drinker: the real wine expert is, to those around him, an annoyingly obsessive snob who spends way too much money on booze and who some say is a total alcoholic. Wine-obsessives aren't much like that either, but that's what we're afraid we'll be if we ever express an interest in the subject.

Who wants to be the nerd that drools over an overpriced bottle of grape juice that sat in someone's cellar for twenty years? Not this guy. It's the same apprehension that stops people from liking (or even giving a chance to) A Silver Mt. Zion: it's all just a bit too...'frou frou', too 'la-de-da'; it's, well, the kind of thing that makes me use stupid expressions like 'frou frou' and 'la-de-da' - and nobody wants anything to do with that. Still, like A Silver Mt. Zion, once you really let your guard down and just allow yourself to enjoy wine, there's no turning back.

Wine - the right wine, anyway - is absolutely wonderful, so wonderful that you not only don't care about the pretension, you're amazed the pretension was even an issue. I'm not going to lie and say I'm any kind of wine expert, but I'm confident enough to pick a bottle so long as I give a disclaimer: wine-savvy readers, I know I don't know what I'm talking about. Bearing that in mind, I recommend Black Tower's 2004 Riesling, which retails at about $10.95 CDN.

A Silver Mt. Zion - For Wanda
As The Poets Affirm - A Lie Told Before Breakfast
As The Poets Affirm - A Voice Recited The News On The Radio

A Silver Mt. Zion - He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes . . .
As The Poets Affirm - The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch

Making Drinks For Nigel, Pt. 1

Comments on "Making Drinks For Nigel, Pt. 2"


Blogger Geoff Trainor said ... (8/5/06 10:43 pm) : 

I was going to have A Silver Mt. Zion in my nexr post. Took it out so it doesn't come off as overkill.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (9/5/06 12:23 am) : 

For the record, I kind of enjoyed City of a Hundred Spires' set. I wasn't blown away or anything but I found the last couple of songs, especially, were quite good.

Of course, I would recommend people to visit the band's myspace ( and make up your own mind about them.


Anonymous Anthony said ... (9/5/06 1:30 am) : 

Ahh, there's no overkill when it comes with A Silver Mt Zion.

Their live shows are amazing experiences that fill the audience with an unusual amount of energy and hope. Truly beautiful.


Blogger RobotsFallInLove said ... (19/10/06 9:02 am) : 

city of a hundred spires is just ripping off post-rock, that's for damn sure! they sound like mogwai allot...

- Robot


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (24/3/09 5:24 am) : 

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