Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra has never been a friend of convention. The band has shifted sounds and names with such frequency that it has become nearly impossible to pigeonhole, or even to alphabetize. After releasing the LP Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything earlier this year, the band has chosen to release a remix EP. In a potential nightmare for the promotions department, they decided not to remix anything from their latest album, choosing instead a track from 2005’s Horses in the Sky. The only obvious link is the use of the word “fuck”, but in typical TSMZO fashion, the track is also a beautiful one. One might say “fucking beautiful”, further diluting the power of the obscenity ~ there, we just did. Mum, I hope you’re not reading this.
The original track begins with the crackle of fire and a circle of harmony, midway between a camping trip and a coven. The only obvious instrument is a harmonium. This makes the trip easy to remix ~ lift the a cappella moments, add some drums, and voilà, a dance track is born. But TSMZMO didn’t want to do it the easy way. Instead, they re-recorded the song at the opposite time of year. As the band tells it, “Outside of the studio, the city was frozen, and thin tendrils of fine snow whisped across the ice like dragons.” ArourA’s Ariel Engle was recruited on vocals. Armed with a host of instruments, ranging from 808 to broken oscillator, the band set out to “make a joyful noise”, and the result is a success.
“Any Fucking Thing You Love” starts murky and distorted with a sound like Godzilla with indigestion, but as soon as the 808 starts kicking, it’s on. The squall created by injured instruments is enhanced by the very un-TSMZMO-style singing, but Engle has a perfect voice for this venture. The repeated chorus is safe in her hands. Engle is multi-tracked, recreating the band harmonies. The breakdowns grind like deceleration. The speaker-to-speaker effects are sublime. The potentially offensive word is sung with subdued sweetness; one can imagine dancing “without irony”. On “Birds Toss Precious Flowers”, the pace is slower, the vocal more languid. The sweat of the first version is balanced by the trancelike cool of the second. The drum patterns recall those of Sisters of Mercy; for all we know, the latter band may have influenced the former.
Now Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra is a dance band. Who knew? But then again, why should it surprise us? More importantly, this is their best move in a long time. (Richard Allen)