Efrim Menuck has been busy lately. Since the release of the last Silver Mt. Zion album, his old band has blown minds by reforming, with Godspeed You! Black Emperor touring the world and working on new material for the first time since 2002. He’s also done a solo record, been a father, and stayed on the road with the ol’ S Mt. Z fairly regularly. Menuck and his fellow musicians have an irritating habit of leaving a remarkably small trail behind them, though, seemingly relishing their position as one of the most cryptic bands that actually bothers to let you know what the members’ names are. The only announcement for this new EP, the oddly-named-yet-predictably-odd-for-Mt.-Zion Ruined City Birdsong Combos-001, was a passing comment on the band’s bizarre website that just seemed to mention, as an afterthought, that they’d recorded some new songs themselves, and would be pressing up 500 copies for their upcoming American and Canadian tour.
With no other information existing anywhere else, it’s finally found it’s way online thanks to, y’know, piracy, and the facts are these: it’s certainly a record, and it certainly has some artwork. Pretty sure it’s a double 7”, because of the way the opening song, ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’, has been somewhat arbitrarily cut in to two parts to make it fit on to one side of a 45. I dunno. Whatever. You kind of get used to just going with it when it comes to this band.
Anyway, what’s important is that it’s probably some of the band’s boldest and most direct work to date. The last time Mt. Zion made an EP instead of a full-length, it was mostly studio experimentations (read: kind of just dicking around in a way that payed off with something releasable) that seemed to act primarily as a forerunner to Menuck’s solo work. The band generally favour long, sprawling albums, songs reguarly pushing beyond the ten or fifteen minute mark, but backed in to a corner and squeezed on to a seven-inch, they seem to be writing differently. There’s a nervy claustrophobic mood at work here, feeling more panicked than usual. Whilst themes of hope and hopelessness are often explored in the Mt. Zion catalogue, they tend to be sticking to the latter here. It’s fuzzy from the lo-key production and the vinyl rip and, thanks to their continual push towards being a guitar band (their first album was entirely piano based, but not so anymore), it’s noisy and dense as hell. And, weirdly, it’s over and done in twenty three minutes. This lot play extended live versions of their songs that go on for longer than that.
At the end of the day, it’s another Silver Mt. Zion record. The singer has an off-key yelp that is one of the most divisive acquired tastes in music. Guitars wail and strings screech, and they left post-rock conventions in the dust a long time ago. If you’re a fan, you’ll know exactly what all of this entails, and chances are you don’t need convincing to give this a listen. But despite not shaking the formula up too much, it’s still one of their most surprising releases in quite a while – short and sharp and condensed in to a tiny package that is over in the blink of an eye. It’ll leave you wanting more in a way that their, to be honest, kind of disappointing last record probably didn’t. A firm statement that Mt. Zion are never off track for too long, no matter what else is going on.